January 30, 2020

Management Advice for First-Time Managers

Management is a skill unto itself. 

It requires a different style of working to non-management jobs. Heck, managers don’t even run on the same schedule as non-managers. Unless you’ve had managerial training, you’re unlikely to be competent from day one. Even if you have a management qualification, there’s still a lot that you can only learn through experience.

Here’s some management advice for people new to leading teams, based on my own experience and observations from two decades in the workplace.

Be of the mindset that you work for your team; they don’t work for you. Don’t fall into the trap of acting like you are a parent and your staff are your children. Hire good people, give them what they need to do their job, and get out of their way. Respect them and show you believe in them. It will pay dividends.

As a manager, you need to set the standard you expect from your team. Clearly communicate what you want them to deliver and the level you expect them to be working at. You need to walk the walk, not just talk the talk. Leading by example and hold yourself to at least that same standard, if not an even higher one.

Don’t micro-manage. Hire people you trust and let them do the job their way. That doesn’t mean you should be completely hands-off. You need to regularly check in with your team and provide support when they need it. Show that you care. Coach and develop them. 

Manage the right things. Don’t focus on what time people arrive at work or the hours that they keep. Embrace flexible working. Judge them on their output, their contribution and their attitude. They are ultimately what matters.

Encourage experimentation and failure. They are stepping stones to success and integral to the process of innovation. If you encourage people to stay on the safe path, they will only ever do average work. 

Google famously encourages its employees to spend 20% of their time working on side projects. This approach has led to some of their most successful products, including Gmail and Adsense. Be bold and encourage your staff to push the envelope.

Be proactive. You should expect your staff to solve the day-to-day problems in their role, sure. But it is your job to anticipate and solve the higher-level issues that could impact your team. Smooth the bumps in the road that would hinder people’s ability to do their job.

The metaphor I like to use for good management practice is that you should be like a good restaurant waiter. Have a good sense of what is going on. Be there when people need you. Get out of the way when they don’t.

Management advice in a nutshell

If you can be open to your team’s input, recognise their contribution, and have their back, you will be rewarded with motivated staff who respect you and want to show up consistently to do good work for you. And that’s great for everybody.