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A Primer for New Managers

Whether you're curious about management or just starting as a people manager, this primer is for you. Moving into people management is a big step in your career journey that comes with challenges and responsibilities. You may already have some strengths that will help make the journey easier, but if you don't, there's nothing to fear as long as you have the desire to learn and grow.

In this primer, we’ll delve into the basics of people management. Moving from being an individual contributor to a people manager is a transition that many find challenging, as it requires a fundamental mindset shift. While your previous success may have been driven by your individual skills and accomplishments, as a manager, your success now hinges on the success of your team.

 A winding road with the words, "While your previous success may have been driven by your individual skills and accomplishments, as a manager, your success now hinges on the success of your team."

Embracing Servant Leadership as a new manager

At the core of effective people management lies the concept of servant leadership. Coined by Robert K. Greenleaf in the 1970s, servant leadership emphasizes a leader’s focus on serving the needs of their team members, rather than the traditional command-and-control approach. As a servant leader, your role is to support, empower, and enable your team to reach their full potential.

Some of the key tenets of servant leadership include:

1. Empathy: This is about consistently making the time to understand your team members’ perspectives, challenges, and aspirations. Empathy forms the foundation of trust and fosters stronger relationships within the team1.

2. Listening: You may think, "I know how to listen. Everyone does." The key is to make the space to seek out and actively listen to your team members’ ideas, concerns, and feedback without imposing your own thoughts and biases. The goal is to create an environment where everyone feels heard and valued2.

3. Empowerment: Learning to delegate authority and decision-making power effectively to your team members is often the hardest thing for new managers. This is important because it allows them to take ownership of their work and grow professionally3.

4. Support: Being present, giving yourself, and providing the necessary resources, guidance, and mentorship to help your team members succeed is critical. Your role is to remove obstacles and facilitate your team members' development4.

5. Recognition: Ensuring you acknowledge and celebrate the achievements and contributions of your team members shows that you recognize their efforts and reinforces a culture of appreciation and motivation5.

The Myth of the Expert Manager

One common misconception among new managers is the belief that expertise in a particular domain automatically translates into effective management. While subject matter expertise is valuable, it’s not the sole determinant of success as a people manager. In fact, the skills and qualities that made you successful in your previous role may not even align with the demands of people management.

To excel as a people manager, it’s essential to invest in developing a diverse set of managerial skills, including:

1. Communication: Learn the art of clear, concise, and empathetic communication. Effective communication fosters transparency, alignment, and trust within the team6.

2. Coaching and Feedback: Cultivate a coaching mindset and provide constructive feedback to help your team members grow and improve continuously7.

3. Conflict Resolution: Learn how to navigate conflicts and disagreements within the team with tact and diplomacy. Addressing conflicts early can prevent them from escalating and damaging team dynamics8.

4. Decision-Making: Hone your decision-making skills, balancing data-driven insights with intuition and judgment. Be prepared to make tough decisions that align with the team’s goals and values9.

5. Delegation: Master the art of delegation, distributing tasks and responsibilities effectively to optimize productivity and development opportunities10.

Navigating the Challenges of Management

Being a people manager can be rewarding and it also presents challenges to navigate. Those challenges may seem daunting, but they also present opportunities for growth and development. Let’s explore some of the common hurdles managers face along with strategies to address them head-on.

1. Performance Management: Managing the performance of your team members is a cornerstone of effective leadership. However, it can be daunting to provide feedback, address underperformance, and balance the expectations of both the organization and individual team members. Approach performance management with empathy and clarity. Clearly communicate expectations, provide regular feedback, and foster an environment of continuous improvement. When addressing underperformance, focus on solutions and support rather than punitive measures.

2. Stakeholder Negotiation: Managers often find themselves negotiating with various stakeholders. Negotiation requires finesse, diplomacy, and the ability to advocate for your team’s needs while considering the broader interests of the organization. Prepare thoroughly for negotiations by understanding the needs and objectives of all parties involved. Seek common ground, build relationships based on trust and mutual respect, and be prepared to compromise when necessary. Effective negotiation is about finding win-win solutions that benefit all parties.

3. Accountability: As a manager, you’re not only accountable for your own performance but also for the outcomes and actions of your team. Holding team members accountable while maintaining morale and motivation can be challenging, particularly when faced with setbacks or conflicting priorities. Foster a culture of accountability by setting clear expectations, establishing goals, and providing regular feedback. Encourage open communication, address issues promptly, and lead by example by taking ownership of your responsibilities. Accountability is about empowerment and growth, not blame.

4. Change Management: Change is inevitable. Whether it’s implementing new processes, technologies, or organizational restructuring, managing change effectively requires strong leadership, communication, and resilience. Engage your team early in the change process, communicate transparently about the reasons for change, and address any concerns or resistance proactively. Provide support, resources, and training to help your team adapt to change, and lead by example by embracing change yourself.

As you embark on your journey as a new people manager, remember that leadership is not about wielding authority or showcasing your expertise. It’s about serving others, empowering your team, and fostering an environment where everyone can thrive. Embrace the principles of servant leadership, invest in developing your managerial skills, and be open to learning and growth along the way. By doing so, you’ll not only become a more effective manager but also inspire and elevate those around you.

Welcome to the world of people management—may your journey be fulfilling and rewarding. Remember, you’re not alone on this journey; lean on your peers, mentors, and resources for support, and approach each challenge as an opportunity to learn and grow.

If you'd like a guide along the way, having a coach in your corner can accelerate your learning and progress. Schedule a complimentary consultation today to get started.

Resources (And reading list)

1: Greenleaf, R. K. (2002). Servant Leadership: A Journey into the Nature of Legitimate Power and Greatness. Paulist Press.

2: Covey, S. R. (2004). The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change. Free Press.

3: Blanchard, K., & Miller, D. (2001). The Secret: What Great Leaders Know and Do. Berrett-Koehler Publishers.

4: Lencioni, P. (2002). The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable. Jossey-Bass.

5: Pink, D. H. (2009). Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. Riverhead Books.

6: Maxwell, J. C. (2018). Everyone Communicates, Few Connect: What the Most Effective People Do Differently. HarperCollins Leadership.

7: Goldsmith, M., & Reiter, M. (2019). What Got You Here Won't Get You There: How Successful People Become Even More Successful. Hachette Books.

8: Stone, D., Patton, B., & Heen, S. (2010). Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most. Penguin Books.

9: Kahneman, D. (2011). Thinking, Fast and Slow. Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

10: Tracy, B. (2014). Eat That Frog!: 21 Great Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Get More Done in Less Time. Berrett-Koehler Publishers.

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