Managing people can be one of the most rewarding experiences you’ll have in your career. But, if not done right, it can also be one of the most difficult.

Becoming a manager for the first time is a real challenge, especially if you’re part of a small team. This means that you’ll be handling a lot of tasks, some of which may not be part of your original job description. Overseeing everything and ensuring that the roadmap is followed is a very demanding responsibility.

It’s common for first-time managers to make mistakes. In fact, they’re a crucial part of the learning process, and should be considered lessons rather than roadblocks.

What does it mean to be a first-time manager?

You don’t need to be the perfect manager a day after you get the news. It’s a process that takes time and depends on your capability to adapt to new and bigger responsibilities.

Things can get incredibly difficult if you’ve never had any experience with managing a team before. One of the challenges you’ll have to deal with is crossing the mental barrier of being an authority figure to people you may have been formerly at the same level as.

Being a good manager isn’t just being able to follow your job responsibilities to the letter. It also means that the way you act as a person will impact everyone you’re managing — for better or for worse.

It can be said that for first-time managers, forging a strong personal relationship with your team is more important than a professional one. Here are seven tips for first-time managers.

#1. Don’t micromanage

Micromanaging is an easy hole to fall into. One of the biggest mistakes managers make in their first few months is checking if the work accomplished by their team came out exactly the way they wanted.

What does this do? Nothing good.

Tasks can take a ton of time, and new managers often feel that they should just complete them themselves. A task that would take them an hour to get done meant at least three hours for the other team members. 

And this is mainly because there’s a seemingly endless stream of feedback from their end that inadvertently hinders their team’s capacity to work effectively.

Managers need to realize the importance of trust when working with people. You have to allow them to get the job done the way they see it, and not the way you do.

Your team will make mistakes. This is not something you can avoid, but this is necessary for the development of their skills. The lessons from their own errors are what transforms them into super-players.

#2. Make time to appreciate your team’s work

It is so easy to see the faults in other people’s work — and sometimes difficult to show appreciation. But this is a crucial facet of a manager’s role, and should be one of the first items in your new manager checklist.

Criticizing your team while very rarely offering inspiration and encouragement doesn’t help them improve. You just keep them stuck with the thought that they can never make you happy, as well as kill their motivation to do their best.

Having informal conversations with the people under your guidance is helpful in this respect. Chat with your team members to see if they are facing any issues or if they are uncomfortable with certain tasks. As a manager, your job is to see how you can help them improve and to enable their development.

The manager is there to enable the team to do their best work today — and showing appreciation and care are the keys to getting there. By encouraging and demonstrating you value their efforts, you create a positive work culture that pays off for everybody.

#3. Ditch email, embrace project management

Overusing email for all work-related communication is a common mistake for starting managers.

When it comes to communicating at work, avoiding emails altogether is one of the best things you can do. To stay on top of what people are working on, use a project management tool like Hubstaff Tasks

Project management tools give you a complete overview of tasks and keep you updated on their progress, without overwhelming the team members with flooding emails.

Keeping all relevant communication about a task in one place is also great for tracking the progress on it over time. You consult a single information source and you can see immediately how it has evolved.

Teammates working together

#4. Help your team become independent

A typical pitfall of first-time managers is taking a step back when the most important processes have been set up and are running.

However, once you’ve handled the basics of managing your team, that’s the time to raise the bar. You can train your team to be in stellar shape by increasing their autonomy and responsibility.

You can experiment by creating a controlled situation of emergency to see how they perform and train them to be independent even in your absence. For example, when you’re on vacation, stay away and let your team tackle situations by themselves instead of keeping track of updates and regularly chatting with them.

This is a good way to understand how your team performs if unexpectedly you are not available to guide the work. It’s also a way to identify the responsible ones in your team, as well as the natural leaders.

These mini-tests are a practical tool for pinpointing the shortfalls in your team’s chemistry, too. Say, if the team members are not able to make a decision on their own on a certain task, you can work on improving their independence and self-confidence in this area.

If your team can properly handle emergency situations without assistance, you’re doing well as a manager.

#5. Be the enabler for your team

Many managers feel that it’s not their job to do the actual work that their team is executing. They see themselves as responsible only for managerial level tasks.

There are very few bigger mistakes you can make as a first-time manager. The sooner you can get rid of this mindset, the better.

In fact, your job is to help your team do their best work. Covering their back when needed is as important as the daily guidance you can provide. For example, whenever someone is not available, try to fill the gap and make sure the process can run smoothly.

When you adopt such an approach, you demonstrate to your team that you care for them and respect their time. That’s how you help them feel less stressed, happier and more motivated to give their best for the teamwork.

#6. Be metrics-driven whenever possible

The job of a manager can be tough when it comes to assessing people’s work and being objective about their performance. You can easily fall into the trap of judging people on the basis of superficial perceptions instead of their actual achievements.

Being metrics-driven is useful in assessing team members. You can measure marketing channel KPIs, analyze time spent on tasks, and calculate metrics within marketing tasks.

For instance, instead of asking what task was performed by someone in the team, you could ask for more meaningful task updates that are backed by data. E.g. — It’s better to hear that “I pitched to 28 people last week, four of whom have already replied” vs. “I did email outreach last week.”

By digging deeper into the tasks of your teammates — without becoming obtrusive — you can gain profound insights into their workflows and task management. This allows you to judge their performance better, and it helps them be more accountable as well.

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#7. Stay confident, you can always improve

It’s easy for a first-time manager to get disheartened. Yes, mistakes are inevitable, and they are ever so visible when you work with people on a day-to-day basis. But there is one thing we should all remember: we can always get better.

The first year of being a manager is always the hardest, but it’s also one of the biggest learning opportunities in any career. Being a good manager requires dedication and constant improvements along the way.

Most new managers need a bit of encouragement too. You are also human, and you are bound to develop if you set our minds on it.

Is being a manager worth it?

Being a manager certainly isn’t easy. Aside from the tasks you have on your plate, you’re also responsible for the output produced by each person in your team. It’s a job that can constantly eat up large chunks of your time and stress you out.

On the other hand, it’s a big opportunity to contribute to — or better, trigger — the development of the people in your team. The satisfaction you’ll get from seeing them grow and help the business thrive will be one of a kind.

The best part about being a manager is knowing that the people you inspired to be better professionals are grateful to you. The ability to have a positive influence on several people is a huge benefit for both you and the people you are managing. That alone makes it worth putting effort into becoming an exceptional manager.

Do you have any tips for starting managers?

The road to becoming a good manager is not an easy one, but seeing your team flourish is truly rewarding. The key is to keep an open mind, an open heart, and learn along the way.

What tips do you have for first-time managers? We’d love to learn about them in the comments below.

Want to read more? Check out how to be an effective manager.

This post was originally published in May, 2016. It was updated by the Hubstaff Blog Team in January, 2020.