5 things every first-time manager should know – and a seasoned manager should remember

Management is something we are often just thrown into. And it doesn’t necessary come with an instruction manual.

For many, managing a team is simply the next step after being a standout and stellar individual contributor. You’re good at what you do, so why not help a team do the same? The challenge is that the manager title often comes without any formal training or intentional development leaving first time managers woefully unprepared to lead a team.

This is problematic for a number of reasons. Perhaps the most harrowing is the fact that “managers have a major impact on mental health,” a Forbes workplace feature shows. According to the authors, “New data suggests that for almost 70 percent of people, their manager has more impact on their mental health than their therapist or their doctor — and it’s equal to the impact of their partner. With so much weight and gravity put on managers, it’s important that these individuals understand what the most effective leaders do, especially if it’s their first time supervising a team. My job and position naturally exposes me to high-level conversations with leadership inside our company and with partners, with diverse and impactful decisions being discussed daily, so a premium is placed upon how I convey strategies, goals and rollout to our teams.

I’ve identified five useful tips based on these experiences:

Lead with psychological safety
The core tenant of effective leadership is psychological safety – creating an environment where mistakes are honored with courageous conversation and coaching rather than anything punitive, a setting where both manager and employee can be fully vulnerable to develop a relationship where the dialogue can include the full 100 percent. There is so much power in being genuine, authentic, and a true partner: problems are identified and solved easier, conflict is resolved with all parties feeling heard and respected, and your team will seriously run through a wall for you. Psychological safety also allows both you and your team to understand that mistakes happen, failure is inevitable, but the best (and safest) thing to come from those moments is tough conversations that will help everyone grow. Perhaps, actually, the only way to grow.

Guiding One-On-One Questions: What is the last 10 percent of feedback you aren’t telling me? What is a skill you have that I am overlooking? What am I doing to hinder your/our success?

Get comfortable with caring about the whole person
To truly be an authentic and effective manager, you must understand that the personal and professional are so intertwined and embedded. The modern manager must realize that their employees’ personal life plays a huge factor in how they show up, how productive they are, how they view the company and, in actuality, every other aspect of the job. With that, managers must be not just able, but, comfortable with managing the whole person. Most of my most impactful meetings with members of my team have not been on coaching for job-related skill (although managers must be very adept at managing to professional expectations) but have been understanding what they are going through, how it’s impacting their day to day, and providing insight or solutions on that. Spending time with your people to learn how their personal life is going is not wasted time, it’s the only way to truly build a psychologically safe relationship.

Guiding One-On-One Questions: On a scale of 1-10, how are you doing both professionally and personally? What would it take to reach 9 or 10? Is it an achievable goal?

Micromanaging will get you nowhere, develop meaningful touch-points instead
First-time managers should know that they need to be their team’s greatest resource and to do that, they must understand what’s happening in their daily workload without hindering their success. For one-on-one agendas, keep a running list of projects and initiatives they are working on and check in on progress and what you can do to expedite that progress. If there are challenges, knock them down. Be a helpful and intentional collaborator on the work, letting transparency on projects be the avenue for invaluable support that only you as the manager can provide.

Guiding One-On-One Questions: Where do you need my eyes? What decision(s) do you need me to make? What barriers can I break for you?

The best managers devote significant time to mentoring, coaching
Perhaps it’s just my bias for development, but there is nothing I love more than leveling up my team. This sentiment is shared by top leaders who know that so much of the job as a manager is to professional grow and continually improve your team. Make sure you set aside intentional, scheduled time for coaching and feedback so that you are learning together, but also ensure you are providing resources and time for your employees to get additional development outside of the company. Some of my favorite moments as a manager have been coaching, encouraging, and connecting team members to the people, resources, and experiences to make them a better employee for you, or (and here’s the kicker), their next company.

Guiding One-On-One Questions: What are your ultimate career goals and what would you like to learn here to achieve them? What coaching do you need in this moment?

You must be your team’s biggest cheerleader and advocate
No one is going to know your team better than you and therefore, no one will stand up and showcase your team better than you. Celebrate wins often and publicly, and let your company and the professional world appreciate your team’s achievements. They will run through a wall for you, as you will do the same for them. I love talking about the great work my team is doing within our organization, and am proud to share accomplishments and insights online. I am generally my team’s biggest fan. Not only is this endearing but it’s necessary to nurture impactful relationships. Pro tip: encourage your team to keep a list of brags each quarter and have them share amongst themselves.

Guiding One-On-One Questions: What are your proudest accomplishments this quarter? How do you like be recognized?

Obviously, there are countless theories on this topic and several different approaches, but I wanted to distill and consolidate these concepts into actionable items you can apply today. Hopefully as a first-time manager you also have resources to elevate your skills and those of your team. If not, I am confident this list will help you at least create your guiding management philosophy.

Be thoughtful, be vulnerable, be curious, and, no doubt, you’ll be successful.

Best known as an award-winning company culture whisperer and strategy guru, Sentari Minor has spent more than a decade cultivating new businesses, building brands and moving people and ideas at several category-leading enterprises and nonprofits in the Southwest. He received 40 Under 40 recognition in 2022 from the Phoenix Business Journal and is currently Vice President of Strategy and Chief of Staff at evolvedMD in Scottsdale, an Inc. 5000 firm. SentariMMinor.com

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