10 Commandments for Successful First-time Managers

November 14, 2023

10 Commandments for Successful First-time Managers

Moving from a top-performing individual contributor (IC) into a first-time people manager role can be a treacherous journey. Not only does it involve moving from being a peer to a boss, but it often requires different skills than those used to achieve success up to that point. Based on the example and lessons of many good mentors and role models, here are 10 commandments for successful first-time managers:  

  1. Exercise “degrees of freedom” instead of flexing positional power. Moving into a first-time manager role may result in one of two extremes (neither of which is ideal). Sometimes a new leader flexes positional power to assert their authority over others as their mode of operation OR to the other extreme, a lack of confidence in the new role causes them to defer to their boss on decisions.  Rather than live in either of these extremes, you have an opportunity to be authentic, transparent, and open. By operating within the degrees of freedom built into your new role and not pretending to have all the answers, you will be much more effective in creating an environment where solutions are co-developed with your team members.  
  1. Listen more, talk less; be slow to provide “the answer”. When moving from being a peer to being a boss, one may find themselves being “put to the test” until they earn the trust of their team members. It is critical to listen generously to help people succeed in that journey together. It is equally important to help people work through decisions and resist the temptation to quickly provide the “right” answers. Empowering your team to learn and grow through the decision-making process demonstrates your commitment to their success.
  1. Create new possibilities; master the art of the counteroffer. Sometimes you will receive requests from your people that you are not able to fulfill. This is where your ability to create new possibilities can make a difference, as there may be more than one way to achieve the desired outcome. If the request is outside of your direct control, explore new possibilities and make a counteroffer that may work toward the same ends. As an example, when an employee asks for a promotion that may not be warranted (yet) or budgeted, offer to assign projects or roles that will prepare them for the next level or partner them up with a mentor who can help provide valuable perspective and act as an internal champion of their development.  
  1. Actions speak loudest. Remember that people are always watching you – especially now that you’ve moved from an IC to a manager role. Your actions speak louder than your words, so it’s important to be consistent in expressing your values and modeling the way you want each team member to show up every day. When your actions and words don’t line up, cracks begin to show up in the foundation that could cause things to crumble down the road. Be humble and transparent when you fall short – the faster you admit a mistake and clean up your messes, the more respect others will have, and your team members will be more willing to follow.  
  1. Avoid micromanaging. The last thing people want is to feel like they are not trusted to deliver their best work. People learn best by doing. So as much as possible, allow your team the experience they need to learn and grow. When things go sideways, ask open-ended questions to help people get unstuck and provide perspective that they may be missing. Consider maintaining a handful of your own projects to allow team members space to manage their own work.   Focus on holding your team accountable to performance and outcomes.  
  1. Focus on goals not methods. When a manager appears too rigidly attached to one way of doing things, it disempowers employees and can suck the life out of a team. Be clear on goals to be achieved and behavioral expectations but allow for individual creativity on different ways to accomplish them. Team members will feel empowered to invent new solutions and fully engage their hearts and minds.  
  1. Never blame; focus on lessons learned. Things will invariably turn out differently than expected at times. When this happens, successful managers use those times to learn and teach. Blame immediately puts people on the defensive but working through “what went wrong” together can solidify trust and spawn new creativity to invent sustainable ways to avoid pitfalls in the future. Failures can often make a person and team stronger than ever if managed well.  
  1. Remove barriers, foster connections and visibility to the team’s efforts. As a manager, you are the lifeline for your team members into the broader organization. Make sure you represent their interests, connect them to the bigger picture, fight for resources, help them connect with others, shine the spotlight on their good work, and communicate clearly and often.  
  1. You succeed when your team succeeds. One of the hardest lessons for first-time managers to learn is that winning does not come in the same manner as it did as an individual contributor. A coach cannot score the winning points in a game, and a manager needs each team member’s contributions to achieve their goals. If you do the little things right to develop team members and collectively work together to achieve committed outcomes, the rest will fall into place and recognition will come.  
  1. Honor each team member’s unique contributions. Do not expect people to be “cookie-cutter” versions of some hypothetical ideal employee. Everyone brings different life experiences, skills, and values to the table. Each person wants to satisfy unique needs and fulfill roles that align with what is most satisfying and energizing to them. You play a significant role in encouraging them to express themselves authentically and use their work experience to grow and develop.  

Companies invest a lot of time and energy into executive leadership, but success or failure is often dictated by how effective front-line managers are in attracting, engaging, and developing their team members. tru™ Strength Realization empowers every employee with deep insights into what is most fulfilling to them and provides front-line managers with a common framework and language to assist in ongoing professional and personal development of their team members.  

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