Seven Lessons for the New Manager or Supervisor

Congratulations! You’ve just been promoted to lead a department in which just yesterday you were a contributing member of the team. Now what?

Yesterday Just One of the Team, Today its Supervisor

Being a first-time manager or supervisor can be a very scary time, indeed. The confidence you had in performing every facet of the job as one of the team now seems to abandon you as you ready yourself for your first day as the new supervisor. A little pep talk with yourself in the car on the way to work settles things a bit. But now, as you enter the department, it seems as if every eye is on you, expecting. You smile and warmly greet your team, though your mouth feels as dry as a cotton ball. You think, “What have I gotten myself into?”

Here’s one thing you were totally unprepared for. Although you are genetically the same person you were yesterday, before your promotion as announced, you cannot help noticing that today people are treating you differently. They seem less at ease and a bit more guarded around you. Then you realize that today you are the person who makes the decisions, so your every word and expression suddenly seems to have more meaning.

Ask Questions Instead of Making Statements

When you were one of the team you likely thought about what you’d do differently if you were in charge. Perhaps there’s a policy you’d to end, or a new program you’d begin. You may even have mapped out a first hundred days plan as part of your preparation for the promotion. However, before you tell people what you plan to do, you really need to gather facts and their opinions. Nobody ever learned anything new by making statements, but a new supervisor can learn a multitude of things by asking smart questions.

If you know a particular area well, ask opinion questions of team members, such as, “What are the biggest strengths and weaknesses of how we currently do X?” or “What changes (if any) do you think we should make to X, and why?” Even if you know what you want to do differently, resist the urge to tell people before you gather their perspectives. If you know an area less well, similar questions can get staff members talking and their answers will help fill in your knowledge gaps. Asking questions, then listening intently to what others say will tell people you value them, their opinions, and their viewpoints. This goes a long way towards making people more comfortable with you being in charge.

Get to Really Know Your New Staff

Not the person on the surface, but the person underneath, the one who will decide whether or not you are worth following. How can they trust you unless they feel you know them and have their best interests at heart? As their new supervisor you haven’t yet earned their trust. Most people aren’t going to divulge their inner person right away. Consider using a behavioral assessment such as DiSC or MBTI, to give you scientifically-proven insights into the inner person. Link this to a shared learning experience about the assessment and you have an excellent team building opportunity to forge lasting relationships with your new team. Then use the assessment findings to adapt your own approach to what works best with each member of your staff.

Extend Trust

You cannot expect to be trusted if you first don’t extend trust. So extend it. People value trust and are more willing to follow someone who trusts them. This is not to say you should extend trust blindly. You’ll need to observe performance and stay informed by asking questions to learn how things are going in the area(s) in which you extend trust. “What is working well?” and “What isn’t working as well as you’d like?” are two excellent questions to begin a discussion about how things are working out.

By asking questions instead of giving opinions, you’ll learn what each team member is thinking, and demonstrate that you value them. That, in turn, will increase your trustworthiness. A highly recommended book on developing workplace trust is from Stephen M.R. Covey, The Speed of Trust.

Clearly Define Outcomes, Then Ask for a Plan

What specifically is it that you want to see happen as a result of your assigning someone a project or task? Answer these five questions to define the specific outcomes you desire:

1. WHAT is wanted in terms of quantity and quality?

2. WHY is the assignment important (to the organization, its customers, you, and the team)?

3. WHEN is completion needed (what is the time frame for accomplishment)?

4. WHAT are the resources available to him/her (such as budget, information, and support)?

5. HOW and WHEN will his or her progress be measured (what’s the schedule)?

Notice you haven’t told people HOW to do it. That would be micromanaging, which is a fast and effective way to reduce someone’s trust, creativity, and ownership of an assignment. Instead, ask him or her to develop a plan to accomplish the assignment. Have him or her present the plan to you prior to commencing work on it, which makes this his or her first assignment deliverable. This is also a meeting to schedule for Step 5.

Get Real, Stay Realistic

If you came up through the ranks, chances are high that you were an exceptional performer. Your staff already knows this and doesn’t need you to remind them of it. As a staff member, it never feels good to be reminded that your new boss could do your job better than you do it.

Which brings us to being realistic in your expectations. If you were an exceptional performer, it is probably not realistic to set that performance level as the department’s new standard. Instead, what does good performance look like in terms of defined outcomes, quantity and quality metrics? Good performance should be a stretch, but realistic. Just as you communicated outcomes to the team, similarly communicate your expectations of the standards (using steps 1 to 3 above). Then encourage them early and often in their progress.

Avoid Hiring Solely in Your Own Image

You may think that because you were promoted, your own set of skills, talents, and knowledge should be replicated in every new hire. Team strength (achieving more as a team than the sum of individual contributions) comes through utilizing a diversity of skills, talents, and knowledge. Team blindness is usually caused by a lack of diversity of the team’s skills, talents, and knowledge. In order to mitigate team blindness, seek to add team members with different skills, talents, and knowledge than other team members have, which are also the right ones for their specific role on the team.

Never Lose Your Sense of Humor

Laughter, a sense of playfulness, and appropriate good humor all reduce tension. Studies show that tension and stress have negative effects on motivation, energy levels, work safety, absenteeism, and employee tenure. People are put at ease around a supervisor who laughs easily and encourages playfulness and banter. When someone is characterized by good humor, there is more willingness by team members to focus and get serious when the situation calls for it.

Finally, don’t forget to remind your face (often) that its expression is its humor monitor!

Bottom Line

Stepping up to supervise or lead a new team is a time of great risk for team members, the organization, and the new supervisor or manager. Mastering and applying these seven essential lessons will have a significant positive impact on your career, and help springboard the organization to a more successful future. The most effective supervisors recognize that a managerial role is not the end goal, but the beginning of a new period of continuous learning, so they commit to staying green and growing (not ripe and rotting).

Boyer Management Group works with some of the world’s top employers by helping them get the most out of their talented people. Our extensive leadership development course catalog provides effective skills-building for everyone in the organization, from the new / developing leader to the seasoned C-level executive. Our coaching programs produce significant results in compressed periods of time. We also work with job seekers to help connect them to better careers faster. To find out more, please email us at, or call us at 215-942-0982.


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