After working my way up from an entry-level sales coordinator to project manager for a global brand, I was hungry and excited for the next step in my career. I wanted to be a senior manager and lead my own team.
I knew there was room for growth at my company, so I buckled down and immersed myself in my job. And a year later, I was promoted to a management position—finally, my hard work had paid off. I was absolutely euphoric.
I’d poured my time and energy into making my goal a reality, and once it actually happened, I believed the tough part was over. After all, I knew my job—and the company—inside and out.
How utterly naive and mistaken I was!
I found myself absolutely fumbling when it came to being a manager. But through a combination of my desire to succeed (and let’s be honest, fear of failing), advice from mentors, and generally just maturing into my role, I was luckily able to course-correct.
Here are the three traps I fell into—and how you can avoid them:
1. Failing to Establish Boundaries Right Away
Since I already knew and was friendly with most of my employees as a new manager, I thought this would be only a positive factor as I moved into my new role. However, I soon learned the problem with being friends first when one of my project managers cracked an extremely inappropriate joke in front of my entire team during a meeting.
I felt myself faced with a dilemma: blow off the joke and basically endorse the behavior, or speak up and risk potentially damaging what was a great friendship with the offending team member (and my former colleague). I weighed my options and decided to address it, calling it out as inappropriate. Lesson learned: Losing the title of “cool boss” isn’t as important as maintaining a professional environment—not to mention my respect as a manager.
2. Not Delegating to Your Team
I hate to state the obvious, but one challenge in going from a regular employee to manager is that you now have a whole group of people waiting for your direction on projects and intel on what they can do. I was so used to my go, go, go mentality (especially while busting my butt to get promoted) that I found it very difficult to hand out work that I knew I was not only capable of doing, but would rock. My unwillingness to delegate would consistently tap me on my shoulder when it was 7 PM and I was still in my office.
To start, speak individually with each of your employees about what they do, how they do it, and what they’d like to be a part of. Then, compare that to your own list of responsibilities. What don’t you have time for? What could someone else do better? And what did you used to do that now conflicts with your obligation to manage?
Be honest about how productive you can be and how much you can take on, and don’t be afraid to let go of things that used to be under your wing. When you find that balance, your entire team—including you—will leave the office at a reasonable time every day with everything completed.
3. Not Giving Difficult Feedback
No one likes conflict or confrontations, but as a manager it’s your responsibility to evaluate and provide feedback to your employees in even the most difficult situations. Prior to being a manager, you only had to worry about yourself, and that was much easier than managing a bevy of personalities and different working styles.
I encountered numerous situations that I wished I could just avoid and continue on with my ‘real’ work, but I realized without my feedback, I was only setting myself—and especially my team—up for failure.
Turns out that a big part of being a manager is giving feedback—it’s a literal part of the job now, and not just some add-on. However, that doesn’t mean you have to be the constant bearer of bad news. By setting up weekly one-on-ones with each person, you’re setting aside time to both give praise and address any issues. That makes it much less scary for both your direct report and you.
Whether you’re talking about an underperformance issue, an inappropriate action, or a tiny mess-up such as a typo on a company-wide report, keep your statement short and concise. And, just because what you’re offering is critical feedback doesn’t mean it has to come out critical—always bring it back to the impact of the mistake, rather than why this person’s the worst.
Truth be told thought, my biggest mistake was the fact that I was solely focused on my own success. Though I wasn’t initially honest about this, I soon realized that most of my communication involved only me, myself, and I. But when you become a manager, you have to constantly remember that it’s no longer just you who deserves attention.
So, the greatest thing you can do for your employees is to nurture and develop their talent and try to find out their goals and motivations. Discover what makes them tick and always be open to their input. This way, you can better position them for success—which ultimately sets you up to succeed, too.
(And if you still need a bit of a boost in that new role, a career coach specializing in new managers can help you get through all those tough situations—seriously, you don’t have to go it alone!)