When I started my first management role, my mental image of what a manager should be was of a sober professional dressed in formal business attire. In an effort to live up to that image, I wore high heels every day, and I hid my natural smile under a serious, thoughtful expression.
I quickly realized that the shoes and the frown weren’t making me a better manager—in fact, by not being myself, I was making it harder to build a rapport with my new reports.
Now, 10 years later, I’m supporting several colleagues as they transition into their first management roles. In working through their challenges, I’ve realized that everyone has preconceived ideas about what a boss “should” be and do—and that those ideas can steer even the best-intentioned individual off track.
Here are five of the most common assumptions new managers need to challenge:
1. “I Need to Be More [Outgoing, Serious, Aggressive, Mellow]”
As I learned in my experience, forcing yourself to be someone you’re not isn’t just a waste of effort, it’s counterproductive. If you’re not comfortable being authentic, the people around you will likewise be reluctant to open up to you about their ideas and struggles. Putting up a front also makes it hard to show your reports that you genuinely care about them—and letting people know you care is essential.
You can be quiet and introverted, outgoing and gregarious, or anything in between, and still be a great manager. It’s more important to understand your role, and bring your real self to it, than it is to act, speak, or feel a certain way.
2. “If My Reports Dislike Me, I Did Something Wrong”
I recently had to tell one of my employees that a project she’d worked on didn’t meet expectations. I needed her to make big improvements quickly, and for about 24 hours, she was very frustrated with me.
It wasn’t comfortable—I wanted to reach out to her, downplay the issues, and reassure her that everything would be fine. But, I knew she needed to feel empowered to turn the project around, so I kept my distance. When she delivered the final product, not only were we both pleased with the changes, but we realized that the experience had actually strengthened our relationship.
If you care about your reports as much as you should, you’ll want them to like you—all the time.
Remember, though, that your top priority as their manager is not to be liked, but rather to provide the support, guidance, and feedback that’ll help them grow. That doesn’t mean that you aren’t invested in their happiness, or even that you can’t be their friend—many of my current and former employees, and managers, have become cherished friends. It just means that you’re thinking more about their long-term than short-term happiness. Friendships develop and grow stronger because of the hard conversations, not in spite of them.
3. “Managers Tell People What to Do”
If you’re a new manager, chances are you were recently a very successful individual contributor. As an employee, you developed processes, habits, and tricks that worked well for you—and as a manager, you’ll feel compelled to instill those same habits in your reports.
But micromanaging their activities will limit their creativity and level of investment in their work. I’ve seen managers literally suck the life out of teams by picking apart every spreadsheet, email, and agenda.
Your job is not to tell your reports what to do, but to support them in reaching goals that you set together. Instead of instructing them on tactics, spend time talking about what they should accomplish by the end of the week, month, or quarter, and about what kind of support they need from you to get there. And then step back, and let them own the process.
4. “The More Senior You Are, the More Credit You Should Get”
One of the tougher professional relationships I’ve navigated was with a supervisor who treated me as a competitor. Time and again, he drew attention away from my accomplishments and toward his own, treating my success as a threat rather than as a shared victory for our team.
What he’d failed to internalize was a principle that I now reinforce in every new manager I work with: Your reports’ achievements are your achievements. Your job is to step out of the spotlight and let them shine.
Encourage them to share their wins with the company, whether in an email or in a cross-functional presentation. Let your own boss know when they do something great. Their careers and morale will soar—and they’ll lift you and your team along with them.
5. “I’m Already Good at Giving and Receiving Feedback”
When I ask new managers if they’re exchanging feedback with their reports, the answer is usually a confident “yes.” But then I find I have to dig deeper. Often, I learn that they’re not framing feedback as feedback—they’re burying it under vague inquiries and tactical project check-ins. Or, they’re treating constructive criticism as a one-way endeavor, giving it and not inviting it, or vice versa.
Feedback needs to be direct, specific, and actionable—and, of course, it needs to come from a good place. Your job is to help your employees see how they’re impacting the team, and to empower them to address issues productively. And if you want their input, as most new managers genuinely do, it’s not enough just to ask for it. You need to open the conversation and model it for them.
Everything in management—being authentic, getting comfortable with not being liked, surrendering the control and the spotlight—takes daily work, even after decades of practice. But if you’re a new manager, I hope you’ll keep at it. Building relationships with your reports, and helping them thrive, will be one of the most rewarding and impactful things you’ll do in your career.
Photo of two people talking courtesy of Portra/Getty Images.
Julia Stiglitz is the Vice President of Enterprise and International at Coursera, the world's largest online education company. Julia joined Coursera in 2012 as the company's first business hire and 12th employee. Prior to Coursera, Julia held leadership positions at Google Apps for Education and Teach for America. Julia holds a BA from Pomona College, an MBA from Stanford Graduate School of Business, and an MA in education from Stanford University.More from this Author