Managing another employee or a team for the first time can be pretty intimidating. Often, there’s no set approach to leadership, which means that many new managers don’t know where to start. While becoming a manager for the first time can be quite a learning curve, it’s also a great opportunity to grow into becoming a good manager.

Management can be difficult to approach for the first time, which is why this article is going to cover what kinds of leadership skills you need and tips for first-time managers that will prepare you for some of your biggest challenges in your new role. 

What skills do first-time managers need? 

While it’s each manager’s unique personalities, skills, and experiences which turn them into great managers, we’ve put down a few of the most important skills that you should focus on. 

Set clear expectations

It’s going to be impossible to achieve your team goals if you don’t set expectations with your team members from the get-go. Make sure that you’re clear on what you expect from all of your individual contributors, including communication, productivity, outcomes, and etiquette. 

Manage time effectively

Now that you’re a manager, you’ll realize very quickly that you just don’t have as much time as you used to! You’re going to need to be more organized than ever, which means consistently planning ahead, time-blocking in your calendar, and setting realistic expectations for yourself with the time constraints you’re now working with. 

Giving feedback

It’s so important to give your staff members frequent and high-quality feedback. This is mutually beneficial, as your team will feel more aligned, more productive, and more effective. As a manager, you’ll feel confident knowing that your team is clear on their instructions and that each team member feels comfortable coming to you for your feedback. 

10 Tips for first-time managers to hit the ground running 

1 Adopt a growth mindset 

A first-time manager needs to adopt a growth mindset. CEO of Vidyard, Michael Litt shares this advice in an interview conducted with Fellow, where he discusses why managers should act as athletes:

“The first step to becoming a Supermanager is recognizing that you might never be that. So, in the pursuit of getting 1% better every single day, over your career, you’re going to be super valuable to not only the people that work with you, but also the ecosystem that builds around you.”

Looking for gaps to fill or areas where growth is necessary or more effective is going to set aside good from great managers. 

“Athletes spend a ton of time practicing and developing new skills, and their mind is open to that. But for some reason, in business, sometimes we close ourselves off to this idea of learning,” said Michael Litt.

2 Learn to delegate 

Any good manager or team leader needs to understand which tasks they can take on and which ones they should be delegating to their team members. No matter how big or small the task at hand is, it’s important to leave your ego at the door and recognize that there aren’t any great managers who can do it all. Consider your team’s skills and most prominent strengths to determine which employees will be best suited for the tasks that need to be completed. Of course, some responsibilities will remain on your to-do list but anything outside of your scope needs to be delegated and entrusted with your team. 

Pro tip

Use a meeting management tool like Fellow to help with the challenges of being a first-time manager and run effective meetings while building relationships with your team!

3 Know what motivates each individual on your team 

Taking the time to build a work relationship with your team and to understand what motivates each person on your team is going to be mutually beneficial. Your employees will be assigned to tasks that they’re actually interested in and therefore, your team will be more productive when working on tasks that they enjoy. In an interview that Fellow conducted with Sara Varni, CMO at Twilio, she explains the importance of motivating and developing your team: 

“What motivates you as an employee might not motivate your team members. Getting down to what truly motivates each employee is really critical if you want to drive optimal results across that entire team.”

Pro tip: Schedule regular 1:1 meetings to get to know your team members individually, in terms of what they’re interested in and what motivates them. 

4 Work on your active listening skills 

In order to be a good manager, you need to have a great ability to listen to your team members, understand their interests, ideas, opinions, concerns, and challenges that they each face in their jobs, respectively. Make sure that when you sit down with your team, you allow them to take the floor and give all of your attention to whatever they are discussing. This means that when a team member is speaking to you, you’re not on your phone, you’re not peeking at your email, you’re not organizing your desk… You’re simply listening and showing the individual that you are present. This means practicing good meeting and office etiquette

5 Design systems and processes to help the team get work done 

Designing an optimal work environment is going to help you and your team keep organized, productive and effective. More than simply managing people in your new leadership role, you’re also managing the environment in which you work. This affects team dynamics and team synergy. Lean and agile methods expert Daniel Terhorst  explains:

“… when you talk about management, you’re managing the environment, you’re managing the context, and you’re creating an environment in which people can do their best work. You can’t make people do things, you can create an environment in which if they choose to, they can do things.”

In other words, the way in which you manage is more important than your face-to-face management. You need to create an environment in which people feel motivated, engaged, and purposeful. 

6 Be extremely clear about expectations 

As a first-time manager, you need to be crystal clear about what you expect from each team member. In another Supermanger podcast episode, we spoke to Melissa and Johnathan Nightingale, Founders of Raw Signal Group who spoke about the importance of being extremely clear about your managerial expectations: 

“… a fully competent manager knows how to talk to different people and situate things and clarify expectations, and not take for granted a bunch of those shared assumptions. And it’s one of the things we say to the bosses we work with, most people show up wanting to do a good job at work… Most people want to do good work to be recognized for good work and to collaborate with people that they respect, right. And so in most cases, if a boss is doing a clear job of articulating expectations and measures for success, is going to find employees thriving.”  

7 Focus on the outcomes, not the input 

Any good manager knows that the outcome is a lot more important than the way in which a task is approached. For that reason, make sure that you focus on the results that your team is producing, over the way that they got to the finish line. As a first-time manager, you don’t want to come across as rigid and controlling when it comes to how to complete a task. Instead, notice the different ways in which your team gets their work done. By observing their working style, you’ll be able to delegate tasks more effectively. So long as you’re happy with the end result, don’t be too picky. Instead, celebrate the unique working styles that comprise your team. 

8 Build a culture of continuous feedback

Great managers tend to exchange feedback continuously, focus on employee strengths, and offer criticism in private, during one-on-one meetings. At Fellow, we believe the best managers are those who offer feedback as work happens, and not only during cycles that dictate when feedback should be given. This is what we call building a culture of continuous feedback, where you give your employees feedback as they complete tasks, make improvements and face new challenges. Weaving continuous feedback into your team culture is going to build strong communications and ensure alignment across the entire group. 

9 Create psychological safety 

Creating psychological safety is another pillar in becoming a good first- time manager. In another Supermanagers podcast, we interviewed Danielle Leong, Director of Engineering at Github. She explained to Fellow exactly what psychological safety means to her and why it’s so important: 

“To me, that means that people have the ability to speak up about their needs. And they feel safe being able to do so. And they feel like their boundaries are being respected.

To me, consent and safety are incredibly important because that means that people are able to contribute fully to all of the ideas that are on the team, that means that somebody is able to say, “Hey, I have an idea”, and somebody else could have an opposing idea. But both ideas are heard, they’re respected, we may not go with both of them, we may go with a different one. But everybody feels like they’re able to contribute fully, and that they’re not going to be penalized for who they are, or, you know, a part of their identity or something.” 

10 Acknowledge the transition to invisible output 

Your last tip to consider as a first- time manager is to acknowledge the transition to an invisible output. In a recent article by Hareem Mannan, Senior Director of Product, Enablement and Design at Twilio, she explains exactly what this transition to invisible output means: 

“Right around the time I transitioned to management and my day-to-day started to become fundamentally different, I remember being so confused about where my time would go… But then I’d look at my tangible output for the week and be like WTH? What did I do exactly? … Suddenly though, I had to get used to the idea that my output would not just be different in this new role — it would often be invisible.

Early in my transition, it was really hard for me to feel like a brainstorming session working through a problem with a designer or meeting with a product manager to ensure a project is set up for success for a designer on my team was “enough” work. But the more I got comfortable with the idea that my output was designed to be that way, the better I felt.”

Parting advice 

Being a first- time manager is tough. Often, it feels like there are a million things to consider, a million things to get done and a million ways of managing people! With a little time, trial and error though, have the confidence to know that you’ll get to where you need to be. Prioritize continuous learning, whether it’s from other leaders, our Supermanagers podcast or our Manager TLDR newsletter. Information turns into knowledge, which turns into power. We recommend that you use our Fellow resources so that you can continuously grow as a leader. From all of us at Fellow, we wish you all the best in your new Manager role! We have all the faith in the world that you’re going to kill it.