Eight Lessons to Master Before Becoming a First-Time Manager Part 1

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 was 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. 

Let me pass along some advice I received from Dennis Burgraff, my supervisor as I moved into my first managerial role. “When you become manager, your staff will give you a 75% effort because you’re boss.  If they think you’re competent, they may give you 80%.  And if they really like you, they’ll give you 85%.  But if they truly believe you have their best interests at heart, they’ll give you 110%.”   What you do as their new supervisor, especially in your first week and month, will say a great deal about whether or not the people you work with believe you have their best interests at heart. 

Here, in no particular order, are the first four of eight lessons that will serve you well as you transition into any new managerial or supervisory role:


One: 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 like 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.


Two: Get to Really Know Your New Staff

Not the person on the surface, but the person underneath.   Your inner person – who you really are – is who people decide whether or not you to follow.  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.


Three: 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.


Four: 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 their plan to accomplish the assignment.  Have him or her present the plan to you prior to commencing work on it, which makes the plan the first deliverable.  This is also a meeting to schedule for Step 6, which we’ll cover in next time Part 2 of Eight Lessons to Master Before Becoming a First-Time Manager. 

Until then, keep growing!


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 all eight first-time manager lessons will have a significant and 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).

I love working with people and organizations who want to improve their effectiveness! Here are several outstanding resources that can help you and your organization to go to the next level:

I work with some of the world’s top employers by helping them get the most out of their talented people. My company’s 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. My company’s coaching programs produce significant results in compressed periods of time. I also help job seekers, higher ed, and employment services connect people to better jobs faster. My company’s acclaimed career development tools help people navigate the ever-changing landscape of conducting a successful job search. To find out more, please visit us at www.boyermanagement.com, email us at info@boyermanagement.com, or call us at 215-942-0982.


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