Help For The First-Time Manager

How to be a better first time manager, plus added tips for women managers.

How to be a better first time manager, plus added tips for women managers to manage the transition from employee to manager.

By Debjani Talapatra

How to be a better manager is a question that needs some exploration in the Indian context. There are also additional challenges for women managers. Thankfully, better management skills can be learnt.

A promotion to manager is a big reason to celebrate. Increased responsibility, more prestige, additions to one’s existing skill set, exposure to a new set of people. And of course, more money! What’s not to celebrate?

For some first-time managers though, team management is not a piece of cake. Nazia Faiz*, 28, remembers the months following her being named the Team Lead of the team she was earlier a part of. “I felt validated that my hard work had paid off. I was thrilled and so were my team mates, I even took them out for lunch to celebrate. That was the last time all of us ever had a good time together!” 

Soon the camaraderie she used to share with her former peers was a thing of the past and replaced with awkward silences, resentment, challenges to her authority and plain disrespect. Nazia was stumped; she hadn’t seen this hostility coming.

Nazia’s problem in the face of a promotion is not a rare one.

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Team Management challenges for the first time manager

Ranjana Sahu*, a HR manager for a financial services company, sheds some light on this phenomenon and offers a few insights and guidelines on team management for first time managers.

1. Not everyone will be pleased with the change. Some may feel that they were passed over in your favour; others might think you didn’t deserve the promotion. Acknowledge these feelings but don’t dwell on them. Looking for validation from these sources is counterproductive.

2. Some of your former peers may have a hard time treating you like a boss. Be firm and try to get them to see that things have changed and so should their attitude towards you.

3. Accept your own authority and the change in roles. It might not be possible to be friends with your former peers anymore, don’t fight it. It is hard being buddies with the boss. It’s nobody’s fault.

4. Don’t give special privileges and concessions to your former team mates because of your equation with them. You might be tempted to do so in the beginning to ease into the transition. Don’t, this doesn’t help anyone. They will expect such leeway in the future and as their manager this is not the kind of work ethic you want to encourage.

Developing better management skills

Another big challenge in moving to a managerial role is the fundamental change in responsibility. From being on top of your own work, you now need to ensure that an entire team delivers great results, on time. For first-time managers, this can be terrifying. Ideally, each team member would take complete ownership and ensure that you don’t need to really do much! The reality is that managers need to help, support, motivate, incentivize, cajole or even fire, if the situation demands it.

Managers need to help, support, motivate, incentivize, cajole or even fire, if the situation demands it.

To take on this responsibility, the first-time manager needs a few basics:

A firm grasp on deliverables. As a manager, if you don’t have a complete understanding of what your team needs to deliver, you will never be able to get the job done. If you are not a technical expert on specific aspects, make sure you get support from a specialist. Employees respect managers who learn, rather than those who pretend to know it all.

Knowing your team. Luckily, first-time managers are not usually assigned very large teams. This makes it possible to know each team member and understand their challenges and motivations. Managers who take the trouble to do this will get far better results from their teams than top-down managers who simply assign tasks.

Improved communication skills. As an individual contributor, great communication may not be essential to your job. As a manager, it is indispensable. In most cases, people work well not because they are told to, but because they want to. Getting your team to buy in on new initiatives can be difficult unless you polish your communication skills.

Also, do they have genuine concerns or objections? Part of great communication is good listening skills. If this doesn’t come to you naturally, you can still improve by watching successful senior managers.

The Added Challenges for Women Managers

For women managers, there is an added challenge to leadership: amiable women managers tend to be viewed as softies while assertive ones are not appreciated in many teams. (As is sometimes said, Assertive men get the work done; assertive women get the b&%@! tag). With more women in senior roles today, women managers however have more role models that they can look up to and seek guidance from in navigating such challenges.

Indeed, there is evidence to show that women’s leadership and management styles are different from men’s, and in a way that is good not just for people, but for business too.

Like everything else in life, being a manager is a balancing act and calls for making some tough choices. There is a thin line between being a coffee-break buddy and a cracking-the-whip boss. Learning to walk this tight rope and being a bit of both when the occasion demands it makes all the difference.

*Names have been changed to protect identities.


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