6 Crucial Lessons for First-time Managers

Demi Kiyan

Demi Kiyan

Jul 20, 2022
3min read
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First of all: congratulations on being promoted to manager! This is a huge achievement. You’re making moves. It’s clear your company has faith in you.

… So, how do you reward and build upon this faith? Taking on a manager role is exciting, but it can come with its own set of fears and anxieties, such as:

  • Feeling insecure about the new role.
  • Feeling unsure about how to lead a team/different types of people.
  • Experiencing stress and anxiety to deliver results. 
  • Frustration managing time. 

If you’re feeling the pressure that accompanies your new title, don’t worry. You’re not alone and many folks have blasted through this to become amazing managers. 

We reviewed the best advice from some of our most popular LinkedIn Learning courses for tips that can help you avoid common mistakes and thrive in your new role.

Lesson #1: It’s not just about you anymore

In her course on Improving Your Leadership, founder and CEO Colleen Hauk explained something fundamental about management. 

“When you were an individual contributor, you were praised for your knowledge,” she said. “But now that you’re a leader, it’s less about you and more about how well you create synergy and drive organizational results.”

This is a major reframing of your career purpose. For you, success does not mean achieving individual accolades. Instead, it means helping your direct reports get the results. When they do well, it means you’re doing well. 

“Write out the following and put it somewhere where you’ll see it each morning: It’s all about them. Today I will provide safety. I will be visible and I will walk the talk.” 

Lesson #2: Trust always comes first

In Being the Manager People Won’t Leave, former HR leader Laurie Ruettimann modeled the perfect place to start making it “not about you.” The single most important thing you can do as a manager is make sure your reports know they can trust you.

Why? “Employees will always stick with a manager who makes a sincere effort to be trustworthy in good times and bad. And they’ll always leave a manager who gossips on the phone.”

How do you earn trustworthiness? “Employees want a leader who can communicate clearly, anticipate issues, remove stress, and speak the truth in good times and bad,” Ruettimann explained. You’ll get better at the others as you gain experience; speaking the truth has to start right now.

Lesson #3: They do as you do, not as you say

In his course on Essential Lessons for First-Time Managers, business and leadership coach Dave Lebowitz likened managing a team to “a mother duck leading a raft of ducklings. They follow her move and learn valuable survival skills.”

Your direct reports are going to do the same thing. And whether or not they learn “valuable survival skills” depends on how you imprint them. 

You can’t simply tell your reports how they should be doing their jobs. You have to lead by example. If you think it’s important everyone gets to meetings on time, you have to show up on time for every meeting. If you think open communication is paramount, you have to be an open book.

Be consistent, and practice what you preach. Your reports will follow suit.

Lesson #4: Create an inclusive culture on your team

If you want to succeed as a manager, you can’t play favorites, and you can’t have benchwarmers. 

From this day forward, your job is to get invested in the careers of your reports, and make sure each of them has a unique place and voice on your team. 

“Creating an inclusive environment is something all managers must do to attract and keep talented workers,” Ruettimann explained. How do you do that? She also shared three pointers:

  1. Educate yourself on inclusion
  2. Be curious about the experiences and feelings of your team
  3. Ask how you can help your team member feel more included, and then try to make it happen

Lesson #5: Create a path forward for each of your reports

When you were an individual contributor, you probably had a career plan mapped out for yourself. In fact, chances are, that’s why you got promoted in the first place. 

Now, you have to do the same thing … but (say it with us) it’s not about you. If you want to retain and develop your team members and succeed as a team, you should invest in the personal growth of everyone you oversee.

“Do you know each of your team member’s desired career paths?” Labowitz asked in his course. “If not, ask them in your next one-on-one. Once you have an idea of where they want to go, start figuring out how you can support them in getting there.” 

Lesson #6: Align individual goals with company goals

When it comes right down to it, your job as a manager is, as Hauk put it, “to achieve synergy between your team and your organization.” Simple, right? Not so much.

Why not? Because, contrary to common belief, “this is not achieved by merely telling your team what the company’s mission is,” Sauk explained. Just trying to force your company’s mission down your team’s throats is a good way to lose team members.

Instead, Sauk recommends “the alignment of your employees’ individual goals to the organization’s goals.” Here’s where lesson #5 can help.

Once you know your team’s career goals, determine if and how those goals can fit into the organization’s goals. Then, give your team member the support and resources they need to achieve their goal. This might mean providing skill-building tools, personal mentorship, pathways to internal mobility, and more. 

“Weave communication about company goals into every weekly team meeting,” Sauk suggested, “and review and assess personal goals during your ongoing one-on-ones to ensure they’re at the forefront of decision making.” 

When everyone understands both what the organization wants and what they want, you can all work together to figure out how to make the two fit together. And bringing it all together is what being a manager is all about.

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