The Hands-on Guide for First Time Managers

18 min read
Jan 28, 2020 9:33:00 PM

Let’s get this out of the way:

As a manager, you will fail, make mistakes, hurt feelings and most likely have employees get upset at you. No matter how talented or experienced of a manager you are, these are the realities of the journey you’ve just embarked on. Best to square yourself away on these now.

Steady your resolve and fix your gaze on the prize ahead. Developing potential, maximizing engagement and growing high-performing teams; a great manager, unlike any other position on a team, has the ability to influence these three things. More than the CEO, more than the most talented or skilled individual, more than the board members - it’s the manager-employee relationship that drives growth, performance, and engagement.

In light of the risks and rewards at hand then, we must cast away the constraints of self-doubt, imposter syndrome, and crippling perfectionism. Be done with them. Say goodbye and let’s embark together on the dangerous, messy, exhausting and yet altogether glorious campaign that is management.

As you read through the article, pay close attention to these two call-outs when you see them.

Ask a Mentor: We’ll suggest questions or topics for you to bring up in the next meeting with your mentor or manager. These questions are designed to help you grow, manage up, and see beyond any subconscious bias.

Put it into Practice: We’ll suggest practical ways to put the principle into practice. The words on this page only become transformational when you take the time to wrestle with their application in the real world. This moves you from the theoretical to the training ground.

Table of Contents

  • What is a manager? Or what have I gotten myself into?

  • The most common management styles and how to develop yours

  • A manager's most important skills and how to nurture them in your own life

  • Your first 100 days as a manager

  • The top 10 mistakes new managers make and how to avoid them

  • What to do in unique situations

What Is a Manager?

Definitions matter because our definitions determine how we define success. So, before we get into the advice, let’s take a step back to examine your existing definitions and then our suggested descriptions.

How would you define a "manager?"


Our answer: A manager is the person responsible for delivering outcomes from a specific set of people and resources.

What makes a manager effective? Or, what makes a manager successful?

Your Answer:


Our Answer: A team's performance reveals its manager's effectiveness. There is no such thing as an under-performing team with an over-performing manager. Instead, high-performing managers lead high-performing teams. Not every high-performing manager was handed a tier-one team to lead from the beginning. In fact, many of the best managers started out with unenthusiastic or unprepared performers. But over time, these managers built teams that functioned at the top of their game.

Julie Zhuo, VP of Product Design for Facebook and author, says in her book, The Making of a Manager:

“This is the crux of management: it is the belief that a team of people can achieve more than a single person going it alone...Your job as a manager is to get better outcomes from a group of people working together. It’s from this simple definition that everything else flows.”

At Leadr, we wholeheartedly agree with Julie. Throughout the rest of this article, we’ll refer back to this definition with a shorthand phrase, ‘high-performing teams.’

Remember, definitions matter. If management is primarily defined as the execution of tasks, then the best managers will be the ones who can prove the highest volume of work-related activity. But if managers are measured by the performance of their teams, then the best managers are the ones who can consistently deliver high-performing teams regardless of the situation. See the subtle yet important distinction?

What are a manager's responsibilities?

Your Answer:


Our Answer: Managers spend time doing things employees often don't do. Things such as: reporting information, developing team competency, meeting 1:1 with staff members, encouraging their team members, assessing outcomes and giving feedback to their team members. We’ll share more specifics on this later in the article.

The most common management styles and how to develop yours

Words and definitions matter when it comes to titles as well:

  • Boss

  • Manager

  • Leader

  • Coach

  • Mentor

Which word best describes the relationship you have with your team? __________________

Each of the terms above conveys a supervisory relationship, yet each carries its own subtle meaning. Not surprisingly, there are many ways to be a leader. Typically, these ways are called management styles, and whether you actively choose a style or not, you have one.

There are six common management styles, but we’ll focus primarily on four:

  • Autocratic: In this style, the manager makes the decisions, and the employees follow directions. (Boss)

  • Laissez-faire: Employees make their own decisions with managers providing guidance. (Mentor)

  • Consultative: Every member of the team can offer input, but the manager makes the final decision.

  • Democratic: The majority rules when decisions come under consideration.

Additionally, here are a few more nuanced styles we see in the workplace:

  • Servant leader: These managers lead by example, jumping in from time to time to take care of unpleasant tasks.

  • Constant learner: A manager that leads by learning focuses on growth. On this leader's team, mistakes are not fatal, rather they are opportunities to get stronger.

  • Expert leader: This manager holds employees' respect as the foremost expert on the team. Their voice supersedes all others, and employees choose to work for them because they hope to learn first-hand from this manager's experience. We call this style, leading by expertise.

Most likely, you’ll grow into your management style over time, and perhaps it’s a blend of a couple listed above, but it is helpful to take a conscious look at a few of your choices as you’re getting settled into your role.

Ask a Mentor: This is actually a great spot to stop and ask a mentor or your own manager for advice. Ask this, “I just read a post describing popular management styles. What would you say your management style is and how has it changed over time?”

The most important skills required for management

Skilled individual contributors don’t necessarily make effective managers. Practice and management require two different skill sets. As a manager, you’ll need to build up proficiency in the following areas:

  • Time management: To get the most out of your work time, you'll need to learn time management skills for yourself and others. These skills include delegating, setting deadlines, drawing personal boundaries and getting more done with less.

  • People management: Management requires moving beyond focusing on your personal achievement to investing in the success of others. You'll need skills such as listening, coaching, building rapport, developing potential and maximizing performance by fitting all the parts together.

  • Budget management: Successful businesses control their finances. At least a portion of that control now lies in your lap. You'll need skills in budget management from projection and planning all the way through to reporting and execution. Can you be trusted with little in order to be entrusted with more?

  • Task or project management: Efficient and effective project management saves companies time and money. As a manager, your leaders probably hold you accountable for getting tasks done on time and on budget. So you'll need to make sure you have the right accountability structures in place and you are ticking all the boxes.

  • Career management: Ultimately, your career is your responsibility. It's not your manager's or your company's or your mentor's responsibility. It's yours. So decide the trajectory you want it to take, determine the skills and network you need to make that happen and execute on your plan.

These are all different skill sets and require diligent focus for improvement, pointing to the need for active focus and growth in each area individually. Too often there is passivity in management or a focus on general management skills rather than digging down to this level of detail. However, if you desire to be a leader of high-performing teams, it’s time to start going deeper than surface-level advice.

Put it into Practice: Most likely, your company has software in place to help you execute on some of the tasks above. For example, a project management tool, an excel spreadsheet for budget planning, or a people management software that provides you with the structure to coach your employees.

Ask around internally to see what tools are available and then, if your company doesn't already use software for each of the skill areas listed above, find a free or low-cost SaaS platform for at least one area and train yourself in how to use it.

Your first 100 days as a new manager

Your first 100 days as a manager are critical to your success in the role. Not only do they lay the foundation for your success in this job, but it’s also much easier to set routines in place than to change them. In her book, Your First 100 Days: How to make maximum impact in your new leadership role, Niamh O'Keeffe writes, “The primary task for the executive targeting first 100 days success is to set out the right strategic priorities and stay focused on them.” Consider these 8 items to be part of your strategic priorities. Stay focused on them and refer back often!

Free downloadable infographic checklist for your first 100 days a new manager

First time manager infographic, new manager tips, first 100 days as a manager, new manager checklist

[Right click on the infographic and select ‘save image’ to download it for free]

8 Ways to Succeed in Your First 100 Days as a New Manager

  1. Learn the basics

  2. Build rapport

  3. Create structure & routines

  4. Establish a baseline

  5. Align your team

  6. Emphasize diversity

  7. Remove these items

  8. On-going coaching

Learn the Basics

Learn your company’s policies, review the training manuals, familiarize yourself with the tools your company uses, and know your objectives and how you'll be evaluated. If any of these don’t exist, go to your manager or HR department and suggest the research and information you would find valuable. Doing so lets you immediately add value to your organization and is a first step towards a concept called ‘managing up.’

Managing Up: Consciously working to your manager's benefit by essentially managing your manager.

Keys to learning the basics:

  • Learn about your organization’s goals and team goals. Knowing your goals will provide you with motivation and increase your and your team's performance. Goals also allow you to fairly and accurately provide feedback to your employees.

  • Learn how others have managed in this position before. Transitions are tough. No matter how your team members feel about their previous manager, it's going to be a challenge for them to get used to a new one. The more you know about how they've been managed, the smoother you can make that transition.

  • Learn how managers in similar roles at other organizations do their jobs. Knowledge sharing both inside and outside your company will help you work faster and be more productive.

Build Rapport

Building strong bonds with your employees will lay the foundation for leading high-performing teams. Make an effort to show your team members that you care about them as individuals, without losing sight of the outcomes on the line. This approach lets employees know they can trust you, making them more likely to give you insight into non-work related pieces of their lives that may affect their job performance. Your openness and respect is a form of relational equity that will pay you dividends throughout your time as the team's leader.

Relational Equity: The goodwill and value you invest in others.

Keys to building rapport:

  • Be consistent. Respect people's time, don’t reschedule 1:1’s, and follow-up on outstanding items. Being consistent in simple areas like these is one of the most effective ways to show you genuinely care about them.

  • Be prepared. No one wants to show up to a meeting or a 1:1 session to discover their manager isn't prepared. Asking your employees to create the agenda can relieve you of a task and increase employee engagement.

  • Be focused. Be friendly, but don't waste too much time in chit chat. People appreciate clear, succinct and actionable communication.

  • Collaborate. You and your team are in this together. So make sure the conversation flows both ways.

  • Get into the details. It’s not micro-management to give attention to the finer points of an employee’s project, adding value to remove blockers, brainstorm, collaborate, etc. where you can.

Ask a Mentor: This is actually a great spot to stop and ask a mentor or your own manager for advice. Ask, “What did you do to build rapport with your first team?”

Create Structure and Routines

Routines establish culture. They set boundaries. They let employees know what behavior is rewarded, what is tolerated and what is unacceptable. Without structure and routines to guide them, your team members will be guessing how to prioritize their work and how to conduct themselves at the office. During your first 100 days as a manager, it's a good idea to establish consistent patterns for communication, 1:1 and team meetings, file sharing and storage and the delivery of learning content.

Feedback mechanisms: A system that takes information related to an output and uses it as an input. In companies, this term usually refers to the systems by which managers keep employees informed about the ultimate results of their work.

Keys to creating structure and routines:

  • Learn about existing channels and standards.

  • Establish your own communication channels and standards.

  • Create mechanisms for feedback.

Put in into practice: Add this as an agenda item for your first round of one on ones. Ask them, “What routines does our team have right now? What would you change about them?”

Establish a Baseline

You may want to break this into two deliverables: establish a baseline for your team and then one for each employee personally. A team's baseline typically includes a budget, KPIs, goals and a general sense of culture. Each employee's baseline might include something about personality, skills, engagement level and past performance reviews. Think of this exercise like creating a baseball card for each of your team members.

Establishing a baseline helps you understand your team members' optimism, frustrations, personalities, communication styles and hard and soft skills fitness. It also helps you to measure progress over time. Each person is on a different part of the journey and high-performing teams are led by managers who understand this fact rather than applying a singular standard of success for everyone.

Hard and Soft Skills: Hard skills have to do with capabilities. Do you have the technical capacity to do the job? This could be described as the ‘what.’ Soft skills have to do with culture. Do you have the people skills to do the job? This could be described as the ‘how’ and the ‘why.’

Keys to establishing a baseline:

  • Review past performance evaluations for each of the people you’ll be leading.

  • Review the budget.

  • Review the team's key performance indicators.

  • Listen candidly to each employee.

  • Send out pulse surveys to the team. Assess results against other teams in the company.

  • Assess the competency (technical skills) of each employee. Does that employee have the necessary training and experience to perform well in their role?

Put It Into Practice: Learn about each one of the people you will be leading by taking a look at their past performance reviews, existing goals, and any personality, culture or skill assessments. Review your findings with them in your next weekly one on one.

Align Your Team

On effective teams, members share a common goal and mission. Your team needs a clear reason to exist, and its members need to know how their individual jobs contribute toward the achievement of that goal and mission.

Keys to aligning your team:

  • Understand the key objectives, milestones and metrics of the business.

  • Everything your team does should align to success for the company. Can you define what success looks like?

Put it into Practice: Ask each team member individually, "How does what you do help the organization achieve its mission?" Many people may not be able to answer the question. Now you know whom you need to coach for alignment.

Create Diversity

Build a team full of diversity of thought and voice. This can mean the demographics of the people you hire, but also the past experiences they bring to the table. Hiring an entire team from the same past company just because you know them doesn’t always result in the diversity required for high-performing teams. Think of the human body. If features many parts taking different functions but, all working toward the same purpose - the health of the body.

Additionally, diversity of thought and voice comes from the mechanisms you put in place to solicit feedback and share ideas. The mechanism should encourage all employees, even those who shy away from the group spotlight, to participate. Get a handle on this early on and find a way to get at least a loose measurement on the percentage of voice contributed by each person.

For example:

  • Employee A - ~65% of the ideas and speaking time

  • Employee B - ~25% of the ideas and speaking time

  • Employee C - ~10% of the ideas and speaking time

Based on this anecdotal data, you can now coach each of these employees appropriately: employees B and C to contribute more often and employee A to allow others to speak before they do.

Lastly, in a widely referenced internal study of its teams, Google found that the common denominator of all effective teams was psychological safety. As you build a diverse team, remember to make that team a safe place for each member to share their distinct perspectives, biases, opinions and insights.

Keys to creating diversity:

  • Understand and appreciate differences. (Personality tests like Strengths Finder can help with this)

  • Work to create psychological safety.

  • Reward and recognize employees in a way that validates your commitment to diversity.

Remove These Items

Inevitably, things will get in the way of your team's success — obstacles, distractions, excuses, low performers and poor culture fits. While it’s not often best practice to make big changes too quickly, eventually you'll have to remove or neutralize these barriers. At the beginning of your tenure, some team members will have trouble with the transition. They may temporarily create obstacles, give excuses or perform below expectations as a way of dealing with the challenges of change. In these instances, it's your job to help them discover healthier ways to manage the transition and to succeed in their jobs.

Keys to removing inhibitors of success:

  • Analyze your team's effectiveness.

  • Determine what's getting in the way of accomplishment.

  • Ask team members what they think is acting as a barrier to success.

  • Draw ideas out of your team for removing those barriers.

Ask Your Mentor: "How can I coach an employee who is inhibiting our team's success through low performance or poor soft skills?"

On-going Coaching

On-going coaching will provide tremendous value to your individual employees and your team as a whole. Very early in your tenure, you'll want to set expectations with employees for on-going learning, growth and coaching. This process should begin with new employee onboarding and continue throughout an employee's tenure on your team.

Keys to on-going coaching:

  • How will you conduct performance evaluations?

  • How will you manage coaching conversations?

  • How will you implement an employee recognition program?

  • How will you do new employee onboarding? Who owns the responsibility for this in your organization? Does it make sense to record any of this, perhaps in video, audio, or book format?

  • How can you build your culture, standards and unique team DNA into your hiring and interview practices? How can you involve your employees in hiring and interviewing as a way to aid in their development? How can you make sure to hire and interview for diversity of thought and voice?

People will always focus on the negatives, regardless of how many positives you bundle along with them. To minimize this focus, move to a strengths-based coaching style that helps employees refine and make better use of their strengths, rather than rounding the edges on weaknesses.

You're no longer a peer. Now, you're a manager, so employees will no longer tell you the whole truth. Get used to it. Instead, train yourself to look and listen for clues that give you a better idea of what’s going on under the surface. For example, when you hear an employee answer, “I’m fine,” dig deeper with a follow-up question like, “What’s one thing I could do this week to make your job easier?”

The ‘fine’ answer may not mean anything sinister, but it could indicate that you haven’t yet established a foundation of trust with this employee, and as such, they hesitate to share with you the real issues. Trust comes most in handy during tense situations. Wise leaders know to invest in trust before they absolutely need to rely on it.

You'll need to get on-going coaching yourself during this process. We can't overstate the importance of having a mentor. A coach or mentor can help you grow and improve as well as offer advice and helpful connections to other leaders. A mentor could even be your own boss or another manager at the company.

The top 10 mistakes new managers make and how to avoid them

Like everyone else, first-time managers make mistakes, often predictable ones. What are the most common mistakes of new managers?

  1. Not regulating their own emotions. Employees don't want to walk on eggshells around the boss and will soon withhold bad news from you because they are afraid of your reactions. That means you won't have access to your most critical data points.

  2. Taking credit for their employees' ideas. If your employees feel like you are stealing their ideas, they will resent you and undermine you. Fast.

  3. Making excuses for habitually bad behavior — their own or a team member's. Yes, you want to give yourself and your team members grace. But no, you don't want to coddle or enable consistently poor choices.

  4. Trying too hard to be relatable or a personal friend to their employees. Watch a few episodes of "The Office" to see how this approach worked for Michael Scott. (It didn't.) Employees want you to be friendly, but they also want you to guide, support and protect them.

  5. Micro-managing leading to co-dependence. Your team members need you to fulfill your role, not theirs, in order to succeed. If you are micromanaging, it may mean you miss your work as a technician and aren't really interested in the business of management, which is mostly coaching people.

  6. Overemphasizing personal preferences. Don't let the work become an extension of your personality, rather than an expression of true diversity.

  7. Focusing on activity metrics rather than impact metrics. It's tempting to make sure your team is busy without noticing if that busyness is producing the desired outcomes. Don't fall prey to this temptation. Keep an eye on the impact your team is having. Sometimes a slow, steady and consistent team creates more value than a group of fast-paced high flyers.

  8. Rewarding everyone equally rather than rewarding those who truly deserve it. In the workplace, people don't get performance trophies. Reward only the team members who deserve it. If you honor everyone equally, your best performers will either start to slack off or find someone who appreciates their work ethic and skill.

  9. Avoiding unpleasant conversations, especially confronting poor performers in the areas of culture or competency. Very few people relish conflict and it's probably one of the top fears of first-time managers. But part of a manager's job is holding up a mirror for employees to see where they are falling short. You can do this in a helpful, gentle-spirited way that builds up your team. You can't duck the responsibility to do it, however.

  10. Allocating too much time to issues that impress the boss but don’t actually lead to the organization’s success. Managing up means you get to help your boss align their expectations of your team with the organizational outputs you're responsible for. Don't let yourself get sucked into vanity exercises.

Ask Your Mentor: "What is one common mistake you think I should be especially careful to watch out for?"

What to do in unique management situations

What if you are facing an unusual situation? What do you do when things at your job aren't straightforward and simple? Here are some tips:

  • Managing a team that used to be your peers. You'll need to establish your credibility as a leader. That means swallowing your pride and asking your former co-workers for honest feedback about your leadership. It also means being fair and earning their respect instead of their friendship.

  • Managing employees who are older than you. Showing respect for an older employee's experience, soft skills and workplace wisdom is a great way to grow yourself as well as build a high-performing team. At the same time, don't be afraid to be the boss.

  • Managing employees who are younger than you. Much has been written about managing Millennial and Gen Z workers, and it's worth your time to read up on the subject. In general, trust them, encourage them to take responsibility and help launch them into their next phase of career development.

  • Change management. It's easy to get lost in the emotions of organizational change, but the most effective policy is to stick to your principles, use your tools and access your resources. Let the data form your plan and the plan guide your actions.

  • Recovering from past manager mistakes. When you replace an ineffective leader, you may inherit a team that is dispirited, inept, or poorly trained. These issues can't be solved in a day but will take time, patience, diligence and focus to turn around. Spend time listening before speaking. Show them your investment by the level of attention you devote.

  • Turning around a culture. Leading cultural change is hard because culture is self-perpetuating. You'll have to change habits, which are often driven by beliefs, before you can change values and attitudes. Spend time defining the new beliefs and habits which will become the new non-negotiables. Be prepared to lose some team members during this process.

  • Scaling a small business from a solopreneurship to a multi-person operation. Growing your personal business by adding team members means you take on the role of manager in addition to wearing every other hat in the company. Before hiring your first employee, standardize your processes and figure out your financials. Also, make sure you can fill that employee's schedule with regular work for at least 20 hours a week over several weeks.

Succeeding as a first-time manager doesn't mean never making a mistake. You'll make mistakes, probably many of them, maybe even big ones. Everyone does. That's okay, because your mistakes shouldn't define you. Becoming a successful manager is actually about adopting a purposeful, people-centered mentality that helps you build a high-performance team for maximum impact.

Ready to empower all the managers at your organization with the tools they need to effectively engage and develop their teams? Following the advice in this guide is just the beginning. At Leadr, we’re building a new kind of people management software to help managers become coaches, creating high-performing teams all across your organization. Request a demo now.

Request a Demo of Leadr


Get Email Notifications

No Comments Yet

Let us know what you think