Well, you finally made it into management! Time for the constant stream of emails, the bickering between employees, impossible deadlines, and the political games. How will you navigate through it all without losing your sanity and passion for your job? If you’re preparing to start a new management position, or you need tips on how to survive as a first time manager, here are key strategies that will ensure your success.
I’ve been in management-level roles for about 5 years now. I’m used to being the youngest person on the management team, the new girl, and the only woman in the office. While management presents its own level of challenges, add being young, Black, and a woman, and I had a whole new level of obstacles. I struggled to find my place in the office and build my credibility until I learned how to be strategic and confident.
Listen more than you talk.
You might be tempted to talk about yourself or offer ideas when you start as a first time manager – how else can you show your brilliance and leadership skills?! However, it’s more important for you to simply listen during your first few months. Take time to observe the work, the team, and your peers to discover strengths, challenges, and even office politics. It’s hard to listen to the subtexts if you’re constantly doing the talking. Listen to understand your colleague’s motivations. Is your manager power-hungry and determined to get ahead, regardless of others’ feelings? Is your CEO slightly insecure? Who are the key decision-makers in your office? Look closely – it may not be the executives. You can learn a lot about people by observing their interactions with others and their demeanor in the office. In order to do so, you must listen first.
Study different management techniques and styles.
As a first time manager, research and understand different management techniques and styles, and when to use them. Your management style will change depending on your employees, the business environment, and even the assignment, so it’s important to have an arsenal of techniques at your disposal. As you get to know your team’s strengths and opportunities for growth, you’ll know when to be more democratic (involving the team in the decision) or when to be authoritative (solely deciding the process without the team’s input).
While you should have a flexible management style, make sure you clearly define your professional values. Do you value open communication, where your team consistently informs you of changes and asks questions? Think about how you want others to perceive you at work and model those values in every situation, regardless of the management style you’re using that day. My top values are open communication, accountability, and respect. I demonstrate those values in everything I do, regardless of the situation. By doing this, you show your team and your manager that you are consistent and adaptable.
Develop thick skin, especially as a first time manager.
Remember when you were a rank and file employee and you just knew your manager made a poor decision or you believed that you could do something better? Now, people will say the same thing about you. This is hard to digest as a new manager, since you’re probably not used to being the subject of people’s opinions, but thick skin will make your career in management easier to handle.
Prepare to be the subject of conversations, office gossip, and negative perceptions. It is important to toughen up and shield yourself against people’s negative opinions of you as a leader. Don’t take their opinions personally. It is important to understand that many people have issues with managers and leaders, and that can seem like they have negative opinions of you. Their issues are with your role, and not with you as a person. Strengthen your emotions against this because you will get exhausted trying to defend yourself against everyone. Remember why you entered into management and keep your personal vision or mission statement in the forefront of your mind.
Prepare your 30-second commercial.
Ahh, the elusive, “Tell the group a little about yourself.” Yup, time for me to start spiraling – who am I? What are my interests? What do they want to know? As a first time manager, you need to be prepared to introduce yourself as a confident and competent leader who is worthy of respect. During your first few weeks, you will attend meetings and meet key stakeholders who want to get to know you and you’ll need to be prepared for answering these questions.
Before your first day, practice a 30-second “trailer” about yourself. You want to share enough information to seem interesting, but not overshare to make people uncomfortable. Let’s face it, no one in the office wants to know about your Aunt Debra’s drinking problem, right? So how do you balance sounding like a person and not sharing your life story?
Your introduction speech should highlight the following:
- How many years in your field
- What you were doing prior to starting this job (i.e. general overview about your last position)
- Why you’re excited for your new role
- Your educational background
- General interests (e.g. traveling, cooking, gardening, reading, etc.)
Practice this snippet and you’ll have a quick introduction for all of those mundane first meetings!
Learn about the office and your team before making changes.
I know it’s tempting to start changing – ahem – improving things as a first time manager, but please be patient! Changing things before you learn the job and, most importantly, build credibility with your team can cause your team and peers to resent you very quickly, regardless of your good intentions. Take time to shadow your team, learn about the office’s goals, get to know your manager’s style, and research your company’s stakeholders (or competitors). See tip #1 – take the opportunity to listen first! Use this forgiving period of being the newbie to soak in as much knowledge as possible. Once you establish credibility and learn the job, then start dazzling them with your brilliance!
Dress the part.
I know that we’d like to believe that looks don’t matter, but let’s be honest, people judge each other based on their looks. Take the time to look polished and well-groomed every day and I guarantee that people will sit up a little straighter when you speak. Dressing professionally shows that you take your role seriously and conveys a sense of authority. Imagine if you reported to someone who wore wrinkled clothing and had dried eye crust every day. You probably wouldn’t take them seriously, right?
If you’re like me and look 15-years-old on a good day, dressing the part is especially important. Now, don’t feel like you need to wear your mother’s pearls, your grandmother’s brooch, or even a pair of heels if it doesn’t fit your style. You can develop your own personal work uniform or style that fits you but still looks professional and polished. In my casual office, my usual style consists of a knit blazer, a blouse, black pull-on dress pants (not having zippers has been life changing, btw), and my trusted Franco Sarto wedges. I also wear dresses in the spring and summer and I’ll pair them with a knit blazer or cardigan to shield myself from the frigid A/C.
I realize that we’re in a pandemic right now so you may be working from home. However, this is not an excuse to neglect your style! Sure, your comfy pajamas with dancing cats may be stylish at home, but your team and boss might snicker when you start talking. Try a light cardigan over a shell top with stretchy ponte pants, and accentuate the look with some light jewelry. Boom! Comfortable yet stylish.
Starting a new job is stressful, and adding the pressure of being a new manager can cause panic. You can easily navigate the pressures by focusing on listening, practicing patience, developing tough skin, and dressing the part. By keeping these tips in mind, you can establish your credibility quickly, build a rapport with your team, and earn respect from your colleagues.