Awkward is the best term I can think of to describe the initial few weeks and months for a first-time manager. Disorienting is a close second with exciting and productive bringing up the rear in this race. The goal is to turn this order around, and end the early-awkward and definitely-disorienting phase(s) quickly and move forward to the exciting and productive parts. Here are 9 tips to help first-time managers reduce time spent flailing and accelerate their time-to-results.
9 Tips to Succeed at Start-Up as a First-Time Manager
1. Your Approval Rating on Day One is Low to Non-Existent
Read this one carefully and think about it. No one voted for you except your boss. There’s probably one person on the team who wanted the job you want. You’re starting with a popularity and confidence rating somewhere south of zero. You’ve got to earn your way to trust and respect.
You cannot gain your team’s trust or respect unless you give it first.
2. No One Expects You to Tear Things Apart
Don’t feel pressured to remake the world or your function in a week. Your boss didn’t put you in place to reinvent anything (yet). Your early time is best spent meeting and getting to know your team members and learning what and how things get done.
3. Sorry, The “New Sheriff” Approach Doesn’t Cut It
Resist the urge to let people know “you’re in charge.” The “There’s a new sheriff in town” philosophy doesn’t work anywhere. Just skip it.
4. Know Your Role and Then Act It
The sooner you figure out your role is to help people grow and go—and the sooner you begin to manifest this thinking with your actions—the faster you gain credibility as a manager.
5. Two Ears and One Mouth: Use Them in Proportion
Do spend time observing team members in action across a wide range of settings. Ask questions and resist telling people what to do. You learn more by asking, listening, and observing than you do by talking.
6. Look for Expertise and Ideas Hiding in Quiet Competency
Beware of the noisiest people on your team. This is a personal bias, but in starting out with new teams, it’s been my experience the ones who curry favor quickly and are intent on educating me, are not always the stars and don’t always have the right answers. Many of the best ideas are hiding behind people quietly doing their jobs in exemplary fashion.
7. Keep Your Criticism of the Way Things are Done to Yourself
While you’re learning, resist the urge to criticize existing processes and approaches overtly. Work was getting done long before you arrived on the scene. As you gain traction with your team members, you can help them uncover new ways to do things. You’ll have your day to promote positive change, just don’t make it your focus at start-up.
8. Accept: You Don’t Have to be the Smartest Person in the Room
Your days as an individual contributor and subject matter expert are transitioning to growing great individual contributors and subject matter experts. Show how smart you are by asking questions, listening, and learning.
9. Internalize: Someone Must Choose You to Be Successful
Remember that point about your boss being the only one who voted for you? The boss is on your side for now. Find every way possible to tune-in to her goals and priorities and operating style and make yourself useful and valuable. Oh, and remember, you’re there to get results. You just need to figure out how to do this without making everyone bananas in the process.
The Bottom-Line for Now:
The transition to manager from individual contributor is one of the more difficult in all of organizational life. Focusing on your need to help people grow and go (drive results) cures the disorientation common in this transition. Leading off with trust, respect, and a genuine desire to serve and support helps you graduate from the early-awkward phase. And then, you can get on with loving this great job while making your boss look like a talent recognition and development genius for selecting you for the role!