How to get started as a first-time manager

Professionals who grow into a managerial role are faced with a tough set of challenges: distancing themselves from your previous tasks, dealing with extra pressure, managing their team properly and so on. However, drawing up an in-depth analysis in advance can help avoid many of the pitfalls. Discover the five most important questions.

Najwa Abid

Who am I as a manager?

Effective leadership begins with self-knowledge. Dare to question yourself and identify not just your weaknesses but also your strengths. This need not be a detailed, highly personal SWOT analysis, but simply forming an honest picture of what you are good at and what you are not is a good starting point. After all, based on your strengths, you can leave your mark and decide on certain actions that will allow you to get off the blocks quickly. To deal with the weaknesses, you can try to find employees with complementary skills or supporting tools.

Drawing up a blueprint of who you are as a manager is not that straightforward. Make sure to take into account the necessary time for reflection, preferably before you start as a manager. During the analysis, focus on three basic questions: what are my strengths, what are my points for improvement and how can I, as a manager, make a difference? It is recommended that you actually put down the answers on paper, as a starting point for your trajectory as a manager.

Who are my key stakeholders?

You will be managing a team and reporting to your own manager. However, you should try to think beyond these obvious stakeholders. Your peers within the organisation may also be important stakeholders, as can the external and internal customers for whom your work is important. It is useful to accurately identify these stakeholders when starting out as a manager. Such a stakeholder mapping can be helpful for preparing a detailed plan on how to approach and communicate with these persons.

The best insights come from effectively engaging in dialogue with these stakeholders. Do not hesitate to start planning these discussions right from the start. Organise a preliminary meeting and have the courage to ask them what they expect or do not expect from you. This may come as a surprise to some people, but you can anticipate this by letting them know that you will be asking them some questions and send them these questions in advance.

Once you have the answers, you can set to work in a concrete manner. Enter the answers in a document that will help you to manage stakeholder expectations. Explain to your stakeholders that not every wish is realistic and provide regular feedback on what you have already been able to achieve.

Based on what will my team and I be assessed?

No leadership is possible without a clear goal, and so it is important to define from the start the mission and goal that you and your team intend to pursue. Naturally, these goals may change over time, but it is still a good idea to go through this exercise once in a thorough manner. After that, the outcome can be frequently evaluated and adjusted, where necessary.

‘Planting your flag’, so to speak, in this way as a new manager creates the opportunity to proactively and consistently make resource and other choices for yourself and your team. This is a step in which your earlier analyses come together: you improve your self-knowledge, understand who your stakeholders are and are now ready to set clear goals. How do you know if you’re in the right direction? Take the test and try to summarise your mission and goals in no more than three slides.

Am I working with a good consultation structure?

Once you know your goals, you can examine whether your consultation structure facilitates and supports the achievement of these goals. Take a critical look at how often and in what way you organise team consultations and one-on-one meetings. An organisation in which the customer is central and where sales team employees position themselves as reliable customer advisors and cooperate in achieving results may not benefit from a three-hour team meeting with a monologue on the figures. An interactive meeting with room for knowledge sharing is more appropriate here.

To answer the above question, it is a good idea to ask all those involved what they feel about this, so that you get an idea of what they expect or do not expect from the meeting. As a manager, this helps you to constantly make the link with the goals and the added value. Use the power of repetition. Do your goals relate to growth rates, knowledge building and operational excellence? If so, make sure these goals are discussed at every team meeting and use them as a stepping stone towards one-on-one meetings. Through continuous repetition, these ambitions will develop into a mindset and an attitude.

Do I detect resistance?

The fear of resistance is one of the most sensitive areas when one takes on a managerial role for the first time. That is why it is very important to quickly analyse this resistance in a focused manner. You may encounter three levels of resistance: ‘I don’t get it’, ‘I don’t want it’ or ‘I don’t want you’. Each type of resistance requires a different approach.

  • If people do not understand certain decisions or interventions, it can help to inform them additionally or offer them an explanation.
  • If they do not like your approach (your mission, your leadership, your approach towards discussions, etc.), you need to find out the reason for this. Find out what’s below the surface: does it have to do with certain values or perhaps certain negative experiences from the past?
  • Even if you find that someone in particular does not want you as a leader, it is worth looking for the reasons. However, the solution in this case is less predictable and will require effort from all involved.

Whatever type of resistance you discover, you must remember that - as a new manager - you have only to gain by tackling the problem and adopting a solution-oriented mindset. Observe the situation carefully and enter into a dialogue with the parties involved in time.

Najwa Abid is Senior Consultant and Team Leader Talent Management at Hudson Benelux. For this blog, she drew inspiration from the many coaching processes she has set up with managers taking on the leadership role for the first time.

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