Becoming a manager for the first time is an exciting yet nerve-wracking career milestone. First, a celebration is in order. Next, the work begins. Managing a team requires trial and error, and there is nothing quite like learning through practice. You’re going to need to embrace a whole new set of habits to go with your new role.
“The habits that got you where you are may not be the same ones that will help you succeed as a manager and that’s okay,” says Mikaela Kiner, founder and CEO of HR consulting firm Reverb. “Management is a whole new skillset and just like any time you’re new at something, it’s going to take practice. Expect trial and error and feel free to experiment until you find a style that works for you and the habits that help you personally succeed.”
“Adopt and model a growth mindset. No one expects you to know it all, especially at the beginning of anything. There’s a learning curve and you are on it,” adds Sean Carney, a coach who specializes in individual and team coaching based on neuroscience, agility, and innovation practices. “But how you show up at this time and the behaviors you model will carry through to the team. Allow yourself to learn and fail, but grow from it.”
Here are the eight habits every first-time manager should embrace. Take notes, try them out to see what works best for you, and practice until they become second nature.
1. Lean on your boss for guidance
“Make sure you are aligned with your boss. Their success is your success, so make sure you understand their expectations and exceed them,” recommends Carney.
He also suggests setting up bi-weekly or monthly check-ins with your new boss around your development, especially in the first 30 to 60 days of your management role. The goal is not to discuss constant status updates about work, but to create a psychologically safe space for you to get mentoring and constructive feedback as you tackle this new challenge.
2. Ask your team for feedback
“No matter how down to earth you are, once you become a manager there’s a power difference between you and your team,” says Kiner. This means you’re going to be less likely to get honest feedback from your reports, especially if it’s around bad news.
“Asking for feedback early and often signals to the team that you truly value what they have to say, and makes it increasingly likely that you’ll get real-time feedback. Why does feedback matter? Your team sees and hears things that you’re not privy to.”
From knowing who is going the extra mile to what strategies are working well and what you could be doing even better, building a feedback culture from the start will provide you with the information you need to be a good leader.
3. Have regular one-on-ones with your team
Setting up one-on-one meetings with your reports is also crucial. Be consistent and treat the schedule as sacred, as moving those meetings around can send the message that they are not important to you, says Carney. Use your one-on-ones to listen to your team members and guide and support them in their career development.
Customize your management style
By having regular one-on-ones, you’ll also get to know individual contributors on a deeper level. This should inform your management approach. “Every team member is motivated by different things. Some want more challenging work. Others may enjoy public or private recognition. You don’t have to guess what’s meaningful to each person–just ask them,” suggests Kiner, who says customizing your approach makes for a more satisfied team and helps you maximize each person’s contributions.
“People also have different needs depending on what they’re working on. One person may be an expert in their field, whereas someone else has just taken on a big project for the first time. The expert needs space, whereas the novice may be looking for your help and guidance.”
You’ll also want to learn how to give constructive feedback, says Carney: “Learn how to give feedback properly, this includes both positive and course-correcting feedback.”
4. Encourage others to speak up
“As an individual contributor, you were probably rewarded for having the most ideas, the best solutions, and so on,” says Kiner. “As a manager, your job is working through others. Let’s say you’re leading a problem-solving meeting with your team. The minute you offer a solution, others are likely to agree with you. But if you pose a question to the team, chances are they’ll have plenty of creative ideas, maybe even some you hadn’t even thought of.”
She adds that when you let your team do the work, it increases their confidence and problem-solving skills as well as their buy-in towards the final solution. So practice holding back even though it feels weird at first. “If you find this difficult, count in your head until seven seconds have passed. The awkward silence makes people want to speak up, and is also enough time for introverts to form their thoughts,” she says.
5. Maintain visibility on projects
A project-management platform can help you maintain visibility on important deliverables without turning into a micromanager, which is a habit you definitely want to avoid. But you do want to be aware of what is going on, how things are progressing and whether your team is experiencing challenges.
“Manage the work through some level of status updates. Know what work was completed this week, what is in progress and its status, be aware of any risks or concerns on your team and know where the work is going next,” says Carney.
6. Carve out time to think
You’ll be spending time and energy engaging with your team and getting up to speed, but carving out alone time to think without interruptions is particularly important as a first-time manager.
“An important part of managing a team is planning for the future. You’ll need time to think about your projects, strategy, staffing, etc. If you don’t set aside time for yourself to think and plan, your calendar will fill up with meetings that are important but mostly focused on day-to-day work and fire drills,” explains Kiner.
So block uninterrupted chunks of time on your calendar. “If you’re worried about seeming unavailable to your team, tell them what you’re doing and why. Chances are they’ll appreciate it and respect your boundaries,” she says.
7. Don’t assume that you know everything
Also, don’t assume that you know everything, even if you got information from the previous manager. Maintaining curiosity is key, says Kiner: “It’s important to be curious and form your own opinions about what work is most critical, who the strong performers are, and what the team needs from you to be successful.”
No one likes when you assume you know everything — it can alienate from the rest of the team and hinder you from doing your best work.
8. Be consistent in how you carry yourself
According to Carney, being consistent with your team in your demeanor, actions, and decision-making is an important habit too. “This doesn’t mean you can’t change your mind or a process as you learn or get more information, but consistency creates a level of psychological safety on the team.” He also says you want to be supportive and friendly with the people you manage but avoid playing favorites. And you want to demonstrate transparency consistently too, both with good and bad news.
Consistency will help build trust. “Trust is fundamental to all good relationships between people and their managers so think about how to build trust, and be careful not to behave in ways that undermine trust,” says Kiner.