How to Manage Your First Team

12 August 2019 -

Typewriter and macbook

Your first management role can be daunting as well as exciting. These steps can set you off on the right track

Mark Rowland

You’ve landed your first management position – a moment of pride, but also of trepidation. It’s a big increase in responsibility, with people looking to you to lead and guide them, and senior management above you looking for you to meet targets.

It can be a steep learning curve, but you can get to grips with it. Remember that many great managers had to start from the same position that you are in – and there are things you can do to give yourself the best possible start.

Be confident

This can be easier said than done; imposter syndrome is very common among managers, particularly women – if you feel like others may discover you’re not up to the job, it probably doesn’t reflect the reality of the situation. Remember that you’ve been selected for your post for a reason.

Dr Valerie Young, an expert on imposter syndrome, breaks it down into five different types. ‘Perfectionists’ set themselves impossible tasks and despair when they fail to reach them – so they have trouble delegating. ‘Supermen/women’ work extra hard (often unnecessarily) to cover up for their perceived failings – so they struggle to switch off. ‘Natural geniuses’ feel they should be instantly brilliant at everything they do, and if something takes effort, they must be failing – so they’re reluctant to try new things. ‘Individualists’ won’t ask or accept help, because they see it as a sign of weakness; ‘Experts’ feel they cannot take on a task unless they are brilliant at it – so feel that people will find them out at any moment.

It’s important to be aware of these characteristics so you can keep them in check if this is a challenge for you and approach your own self-development with more clarity.

Ask For Help When You Need It

Peter Donlon, CTO of Moonpig, struggled to ask for help when he first became a manager. He says the moment when he realised he could and should ask for help when he needed it was the biggest lesson of his career. “I think there’s a natural instinct when you’re promoted to manager to try to prove yourself, and that’s understandable. However, if you look at the good managers around you and how they operate, and you’re not afraid to ask for help, you’ll definitely get a lot further a lot quicker. It might feel uncomfortable, but it’s OK.” Your colleagues don’t want to see you fail in this role - and neither do the people that hired you - and asking for help is a key step to mastering the role.

Find a mentor

Donlon also recommends that you find a mentor to help you develop and grow as a manager. They can help you to put things into perspective, bring a seasoned, outside view on the work you’re doing and help you to learn from their experiences as well as your own.

“As we develop new managers, we give them mentors – people who’ve been there and done it,” says Donlon. “We can help them develop their skills in a more direct way, and personally I think that’s a really good approach – people always have someone to turn to and you always have that safety net there.”

CMI runs a mentoring programme which provides support to managers at all levels; find out more here.

Find Your Own Style

When you start out in management, it’s tempting to replicate what others are doing, whether that’s another leader in your business or someone outside it. There are also a lot of preconceptions as to what a manager should be like, which can be quite damaging. Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts, now spends a lot of time giving talks and coaching sessions for managers in a variety of businesses. She says that many managers and leaders that appear to be extroverted really aren’t:

“They’ve just learned to put on this persona in certain settings. The problem is, that’s such a large part of your life, and it can be quite uncomfortable wearing this persona for a lot of your life. I’m much more in favour of finding ways to make your own style work for you.”

She recommends that you look for someone in a similar role that has a style you can relate to. For example, when Cain started her career as a public speaker, she looked to Malcolm Gladwell, who has an understated and thoughtful style, for inspiration.

“All of your doubts fall away once you have the correct role model. Many of your doubts are essentially: ‘a person like me can’t do something like that, so I’d better go be a different kind of person.’ that’s really the wrong paradigm. As soon as you see that right role model, you realise that you don’t need it.”

Get to Know Your Team

Spend time really getting to know each member of your team: what they do, what they’re particularly good at, their ambitions, their fears, what issues they might have. That will come from regular conversations that involve a lot of questioning and active listening on your part.

Active listening is a process of drawing information from an individual by building trust and rapport, and giving them space to respond. Try to avoid interrupting your employees and ask them specific questions about themselves and their work. Demonstrate concern if they feel overwhelmed or troubled by anything. Summarise and repeat what they have said, and observe their body language to pick up any signs that something might be wrong.

“You shouldn’t be afraid to ask your team for feedback, too,” says Peter Donlon. “Again, I think people can worry about showing some vulnerability, but it’s actually a strength. The more you can show that early on, the more you’ll grow. 360 feedback surveys are a great, light touch way of doing this while building up those relationships, because developing trust does take time.”

Are you managing your resources the right way? Find out more about how Clarizen’s David Goulden thinks you could make a project perform even better.

Try our learning path on evolving as a leader by logging into the Career Development Centre.

Watch our webinar for top tips on how to develop your interpersonal skills.

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