Managing People for the First Time: Expert Tips on How to Succeed | Pro IQRA News

Managing People for the First Time: Expert Tips on How to Succeed

 | Pro IQRA News

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Getting a promotion that involves managing people for the first time is an important milestone in anyone’s career. It is a sign that your employer appreciates your performance and skills and trusts you to lead on projects and colleagues. This transition can also be a difficult and stressful experience – you may need to re-learn what it means to do “good” work.

Somewhat paradoxically, employees are generally promoted to management positions based on strong performance in non-management tasks. While you may have hitherto succeeded in your experience and technical abilities, managerial roles require a different set of skills. You will have to learn to prioritize and allocate work to ensure projects are completed on time, monitor your team’s performance, motivate the people you supervise, and manage conflict.

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This article is part of everyday life, a series about the issues that affect us in our twenties and thirties. From the challenges of starting a career and taking care of our mental health, to the excitement of starting a family, adopting a pet or just making friends as an adult. The articles in this series explore questions and provide answers as we navigate this turbulent period of life.

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These interpersonal skills are misleadingly described as ‘soft’ skills – hard to develop. Here are some things to keep in mind:

1. Be comfortable with power and politics

It can be especially difficult to manage team members who are your friends, or who are much older than you. Amicable working relationships are possible, even when managing others—but you still have to prioritize, handle disagreements, and have difficult conversations.

A typical mistake among early career managers is to try to influence others by relying on official authority. But getting a new hierarchical position or title won’t automatically make it easier to get others involved. Effective managers are good at dealing with the informal aspects of power that shape “office politics”—the conflicting interests and agendas in the workplace, and how people defend those interests.

Office politics may get a bad rap, but in my research I have found that the ability to communicate, build relationships, and influence others is crucial when it comes to managing people. For example, most managers understand that before formally announcing a major decision, it is important to have informal conversations with those affected or who can influence the decision. This is not an unprincipled plot, but a way to do your homework.

As a first-time manager, you will likely need to manage top-down (with your team) and up (with more senior managers). Political tensions can arise, for example, when you need to pass or filter tough messages coming from the top, while keeping your team motivated. While you may find politics frustrating at times, the good news is that managers develop political skills with time and experience.

2. Focus on the team

Being a manager is not about ego, it is about serving others and empowering them to achieve results and professional improvement. Your performance depends on the quality of work your team produces, so it becomes imperative that you are able to delegate, provide work that extends your team a little bit beyond their current level of knowledge, and trust people to do so.

Trust is built through open communication and working with specific, actionable, two-way feedback in regular conversations (not just formal evaluations).

If you’re managing a team, remember that teams are more than the sum of their parts – they have shared goals, values, attitudes, and practices. Likewise, organizations have created ways of working, which we sometimes accept without question and may need to challenge.

It’s easy to think of underperformance as the fault of someone who “doesn’t work hard enough” or “just doesn’t have what it takes.” It is difficult – but arguably more useful – to ask questions about the broader context, your role in team operations and organizational culture:

  • Am I clearly communicating my expectations?
  • Do I give good feedback to the people I supervise?
  • Why might people lack motivation?
  • What role do I play in contributing to burnout?

3. Promote diversity and inclusion

Managing people of different backgrounds in terms of gender, culture, race, sexuality, social class, or age requires more than subscribing to generic company phrases like, “We value everyone.” Your heart may be in the right place, but when it comes to integration, our behavior doesn’t always align with our values—unconscious bias creeps into decisions, and systemic biases are woven into the fabric of our workplaces.

Research shows that women and ethnic minorities need to demonstrate a higher level of performance to achieve credible and comparable performance assessments. My research has found that female leaders receive less helpful developmental feedback than their male peers. It is difficult to get the best out of your team if the members are not reliable, sophisticated and empowered.

Young man and woman in professional clothes looking at a paper document and discussing together
A good manager provides feedback often, not just during annual reviews.

As a manager, you are constantly creating impressions and evaluating others, and you will need to work actively to leave your prejudices at the door of the (virtual) office. If you are a woman or an ethnic minority, you also need to consider how your identity will shape your experience as a manager. Our societal ideals of leadership are still constrained by the “thinking-thinking male manager” phenomenon—the qualities we associate with managers are more commonly attributed to men. Others may question your administrative credibility because of your gender, race, class, or age.

It shouldn’t be your sole responsibility to fend off ingrained prejudices. If your employer is truly committed to diversity and inclusion, ask how they support underrepresented employees who take on managerial roles.

4. Get the support you need

Taking on additional responsibilities and managing people can be stressful – there is always some degree of discomfort in professional growth. Formal management training can be beneficial, and on-the-job experience even more so. But your growth as a manager will also help if you can learn from others who have been in your shoes.

Managers with thriving careers cultivate a wide range of developmental relationships. Trusted mentors, coaches, executives, peers or professional sponsors can act as a sounding board, offering advice and different points of view, validating and challenging you at the same time, opening doors to additional opportunities. No one travels this road alone, and neither should you.


Elena Doldor does not work for, consult with, own, or receive funding from any company, organization, or organization that benefits from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond her academic appointment.