Secret Lessons Every First-Time Manager Learns
Congratulations! Your leadership potential caught someone's eye, and now you have direct reports. But once you've popped the champagne and ordered your new business cards, you may wonder what the heck you've gotten yourself into. Managing people is an entirely different skillset than being an individual performer.
Here are 10 secrets you'll learn as a first-time manager.
1. Your job is no longer about doing the work but about helping others do the work.
Depending on your role, you may still have some hands-on responsibilities, but once you've been assigned direct reports, your primary job is making sure your team has the resources and training needed to get their jobs done. You'll spend your days in meetings, clearing obstacles, and negotiating with other managers. If you catch yourself saying, "Oh, I haven't gotten anything done—I've been in meetings all day," reframe your perspective.
2. You will have administrative responsibilities.
With direct reports comes HR work. You'll need to approve timesheets, field PTO requests, and document performance issues.
3. You will be stuck in the middle.
Decision-makers higher on the ladder will make judgment calls (whether the budget has room for raises, when to reopen the office), and you'll be asked to convey those decisions to your team and support them, whether you agree with them or not.
4. You'll be viewed differently by your colleagues at all levels.
The dynamics of the hierarchy have changed. Your reports/former peers aren't sure how you'll wield your newfound authority. And your management colleagues may view you as the new kid on the block. There's no way through this but time and patience.
5. You'll need to set boundaries.
If you were friendly with your direct reports as peers, you need to rethink your relationships now that you're a supervisor. For instance, if you're accustomed to happy hours with one of your reports but not the others, you'll need to start treating them more equitably. The need to set new boundaries is one of the hardest transitions to make, but it's incredibly important. It will be easier to professionally complete a direct report's performance review if you haven't been downing margaritas together on the regular.
6. It's easy to abuse your authority—and your strongest authority is informal.
Your position on the company org chart gives you one form of authority—but in terms of getting the work done and forming a strong team, the strongest authority you can wield is still informal. Your ability to inspire your team, set a positive tone, and motivate them to get the job done is what will make you a successful manager. Saying "Because I'm the boss and I say so" is an easy ticket to losing credibility.
7. Your team is watching your every move.
Don't be creeped out by this but keep it in mind. When bad news comes, your team is looking to see how you react, and they'll react accordingly. That's why it's important to cultivate relationships with trusted colleagues at your peer level. You need to be able to let off steam and then put on your game face with your direct reports.
8. Your perspective will change.
With supervisory responsibility comes access to different types of information. You'll find yourself looking at the big picture from the company's perspective. This can be jarring for your direct reports who are used to your being their peer.
9. You're not responsible for their happiness—or their ultimate success.
Boundary-setting with direct reports goes beyond friendships. You also need to have some emotional distance. You can be supportive, and you can provide resources and training, but you can't make someone like their job, and you can't make everyone successful at their job.
10. Your team's successes are your successes.
Did one of your direct reports land a big new account? Awesome! That's a win for you, too. You set your direct report up for success. Look at it this way: You know who stars in a movie, and sometimes you know who the director is. But do you generally know the producer's name? You're the producer now.