Having someone from your organization promoted into a manager role for the first time should be exciting for them – their skills and dedication have been recognized, and they’ve been given the responsibility of leading others. It’s a big step.
But it can also be intimidating for them. They have to quickly get up to speed on new projects, while finding the time to acquire vital new skills. They have to oversee and direct the work of an entire team, whilst still handling many tasks of their own.
New managers aren’t the only ones feeling overwhelmed, however. Managers across the world, of all experience levels, are being asked to do more, with less, in an increasingly difficult environment – and, depending on their company’s L&D initiatives, they may or may not have access to management training to help them meet these high expectations.
But we know that for organizations to succeed, managers need to succeed. So, as part of our ongoing campaign to provide managers with better resources and support, we’ve compiled a checklist of tips and skills to help guide new managers as they go through this exciting (but demanding!) transition. We encourage you to share this with any and all new managers in your organization.
TIP #1: “Be ruthless with calendar invites”
After just a few days in the new role, a new manager will probably notice their calendar becoming stacked with meetings. They’ll need to cut through the noise and only attend the vital ones – otherwise, they’ll likely end up putting in excessive overtime handling their own workload on top of those meetings.
This means being comfortable with saying ‘no’ to some catch-ups. It’s important for them to remember, here, that this isn’t being rude, it’s being discerning – making smart and responsible decisions about their time is in the best interest of everyone on their team.
This doesn’t mean that they won’t be able to get involved in projects or initiatives that they care about, of course. Rather, they’ll just need to learn how to clearly communicate their needs, and how to establish firm boundaries about how their time is used.
For example, if someone invites them to the kick-off meeting for a project that they aren’t essential to (especially if lots of other people are also invited), they could respond saying something like:
“Thanks for including me in this project! I won’t be able to join you for the kick-off, but I’m happy to have a look at the meeting notes and provide any insights or context I might have. Feel free to ping me with any specific questions you might have.”
This will allow them to share their expertise without spending hours on calls that demand their undivided attention with little to show for it.
TIP #2: “Shape your own schedule”
Becoming more comfortable with turning down meetings is a great first step for a new manager looking to actively control their schedule – but it’s also a good idea for them to block off sections of time in their calendar, and dedicate this time to their individual contributor tasks or general admin tasks (like answering emails or checking in with colleagues).
They should make sure to allow a little more time than they think they’ll need for each task, too, because things rarely go exactly to plan, and emergencies won’t pay any heed to a “Do not book” message.
If admin is taking up too much of their time, they should try automating some of their processes. For example, do they still schedule meetings manually? In that case, they should try an online scheduling tool like Calendly, or sharing their Google calendar with people and asking them to find an open slot. Do they receive notifications about the same information in multiple places? Instead of receiving an email, a Slack notification, and a mobile ping every time someone leaves a comment on Asana or Google docs, we suggest choosing one place to receive all their notifications and changing their settings for the other channels.
TIP #3: “Cut yourself some slack”
Mindfulness and resilience training can powerfully transform a person’s experience at work – but, unfortunately, not everyone has access to that training. And if someone has just stepped into a new role as a manager, they probably have more pressing concerns than learning to meditate.
But they don’t have to sign-up for a three-day retreat to make some progress in this area. In fact, there’s one small thing they can do that will make a big difference: reminding themselves that being a manager is not supposed to be easy.
Being a manager is a famously stressful job. They’re accountable to many different people and objectives, they’re meant to look after their team’s engagement, performance, and well-being while also cultivating a healthy relationship with said team, and they’re expected to strategize, report and problem-solve every single day. It’s a lot.
They’ll feel the pressure coming at them from all directions, and in the midst of that, self-compassion will likely seem inaccessible. But they need to find self-compassion because it has a direct effect on their ability to develop more emotional resilience.
To start rebuilding their self-compassion, they should begin by taking a deep breath and kindly observing any of their feelings that arise. Then, instead of telling themselves that they shouldn’t feel those things, or that they wouldn’t if only things were different, they should tell themselves: “it makes sense, and it’s okay, for me to feel this way”.
Once they’ve managed to do this once, they should go to their calendar and plan in short breaks throughout their day to check in with themselves, to remind them of this idea.
Of course, while self-compassion is an important part of managing emotions at work, it won’t solve every problem. Sometimes, the pressure on managers really will be overwhelming, and they’ll have more on their plate than they can possibly handle. This is where the next tip comes in.
TIP #4: “Know when to give away your ‘Legos’”
Becoming a manager means having more tasks to deal with than ever before – so new managers will need to find a way to avoid becoming a bottleneck.
They should start by identifying their top three priorities for the week and rank these in order of priority. Some project management tools like Asana let them add both priority levels and estimated time requirements to tasks, helping them to get a clearer picture of why things feel chaotic (thus allowing them to better navigate the chaos.)
Once their priorities have been identified, and they’ve started to straighten out the chaos, it’s time to delegate.
One way to identify tasks that can be delegated is by looking at any recurring items on their checklist and asking themselves: Can someone else do this? Or could someone else be trained to do this?
This is where the concept of ‘giving away Legos’ comes into play. If you’re not familiar with Molly Graham’s article ‘Give Away Your Legos’ and Other Commandments for Scaling Startups, we highly recommend giving it a read – it has become central to our understanding of what being ‘culture first’ means, so much so that we ended up interviewing Molly on the topic of scaling culture in this episode of the Culture First podcast.
But, to summarize – if something can be delegated, it probably should be. New managers should try to avoid being a middle-person unless absolutely necessary. At times, this can be an emotional process, as some things are hard to let go of. But it can also be an opportunity for them to empower their direct reports – or, in some cases, their peers – to take on more responsibility in areas that will offer them growth opportunities.
TIP #5: “Track down a mentor”
It can be easy for new managers to think that the crises they face are unique – but the truth is that other people have walked in their shoes before. And, thankfully, most of those experienced leaders are happy to help (especially when they can empathize with the struggle).
We encourage new managers to identify a couple of people they’d like to learn from, whether they’re inside or outside of the manager’s organization, and simply ask them to share their expertise or skills!
If they’re not sure how to go about this, a good place to start is asking the potential mentor for an initial 15 or 30-minute conversation.
In this meeting, they can describe the kind of coaching or guidance they’re looking for. The mentor might also possess knowledge that the prospective mentee is unaware of, so they could ask the mentor some open questions that will allow the mentee to get to know them a little better. The most important thing here is that the mentee demonstrates a willingness to learn, and follow-through on commitments. They should let the mentor know that the mentor’s time is respected, and will not be taken for granted.
After this meeting, if the prospective mentor agrees to start a mentor-mentee relationship, the new manager should propose the frequency and duration of meetings, as well as some initial challenges they’d like help with.
TIP #6: “Go hard on soft skills”
Sure, practical, ‘hard’ skills will still be a big part of the new manager’s work-life once they transition – but their communication and relationships with their team members will become the priority. That’s where ‘soft skills’ come in.
At times referred to as ‘leadership skills’, or even ‘life skills’, soft skills are defined as the “personal attributes that enable someone to interact effectively and harmoniously with other people.” And while they might sound light and fluffy, they’re what enable us to develop as leaders, as professionals, and as people. Not only are they crucial to our performance at work, but they also greatly improve our experience of work.
Here are some key soft skills:
- Fostering psychological safety
- Active listening
- Assertive communication
- Stress management
- Critical thinking
New managers can learn more about soft skills, and how to cultivate them, in the below episode of the Culture First podcast.
Listen to “The death and rebirth of soft skills” from Culture First podcast.
Hear from experts Claude Silver, Chief Heart Officer at Vayner Media, and Dara Blumenthal, Ph.D. and adult development coach.
TIP #7: “Create a feedback loop”
The best way for a new manager to keep growing and improving is to continuously ‘check the pulse’ on their progress and areas of growth.
Similarly, one of the best ways for them to encourage growth and development in their direct reports is to give regular feedback, both positive and critical. Good feedback benefits everyone – so it’s important for new managers to cultivate a healthy feedback model and culture within their team.
Giving regular feedback, and explaining why they are doing so, will help the manager show their people that they care about team members. And while not every action requires feedback, it’s important to make feedback a habit. When positive feedback is given often, it prevents occasional critical or corrective feedback from becoming an ordeal.
Obviously, the hierarchal divide between a manager and their direct reports can make receiving candid feedback more difficult. This is why we have developed our 360° review template, which allows managers to receive specific feedback on areas of their choosing, from direct reports, peers, and leaders.
While the thought of asking for this kind of feedback can be daunting, knowing where they stand, how their efforts are being perceived, and how their co-workers would like to see them grow will give managers a framework for their development. And this, in turn, could offer them peace of mind while they navigate the ups and downs of their new role.
Were you recently promoted to be manager of a diverse team?
Check out this guide for new managers on how to empower diverse teams.