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First-Time Manager Experience: 3 Tips from a New Manager

First-time manager experience: 3 tips from a new manager

A while back, after being asked to take on my first direct report, I was talking with a friend on his back porch about my uncertainty on whether I was ready to be a manager or not. Although I enjoyed being a trainer or mentor, I was unsure if I could handle tough conversations like delivering constructive feedback, doing performance reviews, or, worse, firing someone. I felt more comfortable being an advocate for people and helping them grow rather than potentially having to deliver bad news.  

My friend’s response really helped shape how I view management. He pointed out that having a manager who shares my perspective would actually be preferable because it would be better to have a manager who wants their direct reports to succeed instead of just being comfortable watching them fail. This conversation has stuck with me ever since.  

In case the title wasn’t a spoiler, I accepted the role. After reflecting on my first six months in a management role at Frogslayer, I put together my best first-time manager tips.

3 First-Time Manager Tips

Considering that a person spends nearly a third of their waking moments in a 40-hour work week, I didn’t take on my new management role lightly. Given that I genuinely care for my direct reports, I wanted to make their time at work as fulfilling as possible.

Over time, I found the following three tips were key to my success, especially as a first-time manager.

1. Make their success your mission.

Each person is unique, and as a manager, your task is to find out where your direct report is at in their career and what they need to take their next step. This is easier said than done. The biggest challenges I’ve faced as a first-time manager are: 

  • I am one person with one person’s worth of experience. The chances of me knowing everything that’s best for any direct report are slim. We’re all different people. So, my first objective is to observe and learn. When meeting with a direct report, I consider questions like: 
    • Where are they at? What experiences are they bringing in that have shaped their career? Is this their first time working in this industry, or do they have years of experience? 
    • What works for them? Do they need more help breaking down tasks, or do they need more help seeing the big picture? Are they more autonomous or collaborative? 
    • What do they want? Where do they want to see their career go? Are they looking for breadth of experience or depth in expertise?
      These sorts of questions help me build a basis of understanding that will not only help when assigning projects or setting professional development goals but also lead to more productive and helpful 1-1s. 
  • I must be uncomfortably candid. It can be so much easier to tell a person, “You’re doing great, and be their biggest cheerleader. But that’s not helpful when there is an area that needs improvement. At Frogslayer, we set a precedent on day one that we will not tolerate a “me vs. you” mentality. When we give feedback, it is always for the sake of improving both the individual and the team. Feedback should be welcomed, and that starts with me as a manager. I must lead by example and be open to giving and receiving feedback. 

By being aware of these challenges, new managers can foster an environment where every team member has the opportunity to succeed. I’ve found that committing to individual growth and team success is what makes management so rewarding. 

2. Master balancing priorities and time management.

At Frogslayer, an individual contributor is responsible for overseeing their respective projects, a technical lead oversees the people on their project, and a manager is responsible for supporting and equipping the people they manage, regardless of what projects they are on. 

Entering management requires a new manager to be able to switch problem spaces with respect to the person while always keeping the broader team in mind. Being able to be the person others come to when there is a need to escalate an issue requires: 

  • Context for the person’s work
  • Ability to make quick assessments/recommendations when appropriate
  • Readiness to escalate further when necessary

First-time managers will have their hands full balancing the needs of direct reports and finding time to do their own work. The ability to manage your time wisely is key here. There is no perfect solution for managing a schedule and checking in on direct reports, but extremes can lead to either micromanagement or neglect. That needle must be threaded carefully.

3. Be communicative and adaptable.

I have been fortunate to have had some fantastic managers in my various roles, and it has been a huge part of what has enabled me to be

  • Excited to go to work in a place where I’m trusted and challenged daily.
  • Free to make mistakes, understanding that correction is different than punishment; we thrive on correction. 
  • Empowered to grow quickly in my career thanks to proper coaching and mentorship. 

I can see how someone without any of these things would want to look for their next employer. The thought of myself being the reason someone would not want to go to work was nerve-racking for a time, and it led me to ask the other engineering managers at Frogslayer, “How do you do it?” I needed to pick their brains and find out if I had what it takes to help someone be empowered in the workplace. 

My takeaway from those conversations was that there is no guidebook or one-size-fits-all solution to management. Each person is different and needs different support, and the only way new managers can be successful in the role is to be communicative and adaptable.

Effective communication involves providing clear and timely feedback and being transparent about expectations and goals. Regular check-ins and 1-1s are crucial for maintaining this level of communication.

Adaptability means being flexible and responsive to each team member’s unique needs and the changing dynamics of the workplace. It involves recognizing that what works for one person might not work for another and being willing to adjust your management style accordingly. It also means staying open to new ideas, continuously learning, and being willing to pivot how you are managing the team when necessary.

TL;DR – Tips from a First-Time Manager

During these first six months as a manager, I learned that it’s okay that I’m not the greatest manager of all time right out of the gate. As a new manager, mistakes will be made along the way. The key is to learn from them. By consistently asking, “What could I be doing better?” and responding effectively, you’re well on your way to success.

If you’re a first-time manager yourself, here’s the big takeaways:

  • Prioritize your direct report’s success. Their wins are your wins.  
  • You don’t get extra hours in the day with your added responsibilities. Time management is vital to your success.
  • There’s no ‘one size fits all’ solution to management. Communicate often with your direct reports and be flexible.

Management is serious, difficult, and worth it. While it’s not for everybody, I believe someone who is passionate about advocating for others and can manage their schedule with extreme care could feel right at home in a management role.

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