Making the transition from individual contributor to manager for the first time can be challenging yet ultimately rewarding when navigated with grace. In search of best practices for this career pivot point, I sought out tips from mentors and friends who I consider exceptional leaders in hopes of answering the valuable question, “What advice would you give to first-time managers?” Here’s what they had to say.
“I’m a big believer in empowering people. When I trust a report, my brief to them is often as simple as, ‘Just make sure I don’t have any surprises.’ I had a boss say that to me once early on in our working relationship and it did the trick for me. For some people it does take a bit to get to that point, but you’ll know it when you’re there.” –Paul Wilke, Founder/CEO – Upright Position Communications
“Get comfortable with being hands off. When I first became a manager, I was worried that everything had to be perfect. I spent hours creating instructions and making sure I always had the ‘right set-up’ for my people. Then, my own responsibilities grew and I found myself with less time to provide guidance. You know what happened? The quality of my team’s work became better because they had more room to develop their own unique solutions.
Now that I’m running a company, I follow a simple formula: (1) hire people who are amazing at what they do, (2) give them a clear set of goals, and (3) rely on their expertise to guide me. Things get done faster, people are happier, and everyone has less on their plate because we’re all empowered around our best skills and judgment.” – Ritika Puri, Co-founder/CEO – Storyhackers
“My advice to first-time managers is to live and breathe the culture you want your team to be known for. Believe in each individual’s capacity to bring something unique to the table when given the opportunity. People are hands down the most important asset to any team –invest in them.” – Guryan Tighe, Speakeasy Strategies
“When I was a newbie manager, it took a little time to realize the importance of next-level communication skills in leading a team. The best managers are great listeners, emphathizers, and shepherds of the communication of others, to the benefit of the team and the end results it drives toward. My best advice is to get ready to receive everything your team wants and needs to articulate and digest objectively; learn to be silent so others can speak. As the leader, you’re the voice of the whole and it’s a great responsibility to be the owner of the successes and frustrations of others, so keep your eyes, ears, and heart open.” – Lisa Temple, Community Engagement Manager – Adobe
“Engagement is triggered when a manager commits to educating the team on the strategy and goals driving the work. On the surface, this advice may seem obvious, but building a deep and sustainable state of engagement requires getting to know each member of the team, what makes that person tick, and unlocking or leveraging how she/he can uniquely contribute. –Laura Murcek, Principal of Brand Strategy – Airstark LLC
“Lead by example. Don’t take shortcuts and exceed expectations whenever possible. Prioritize your direct reports’ career trajectory and professional goals over your own. Good things come to those who understand that a team is more effective than an individual. Give credit where credit is due and spotlight outstanding performance. Remain humble and be approachable.” – Theresa Rockovich, VP of Acquisition – Casper
“If you focus on what you want, you’ll get exactly what you want. I wish someone had told me this long ago. I would have wasted less time coaching out things I didn’t want to happen and more time praising and recognizing all the good that was going on around me. It is only through praise and appreciation that you get more of the good.” – Leanne Onstott, Sr. Director of Sales & Service – Art.com
What’s your best advice for managerial newbies, creative or not? Was your transition into leadership a smooth one?
Laura Vrcek is a copywriter and ghostwriter in the San Francisco Bay Area. She has an MFA in Creative Writing from Chatham University where she studied prose poetry and has taught and served as a seminar panelist for Dave Eggers’ Writing Center 826 Valencia. Her work has appeared in The Red Clay Review, Apple Valley Review, The Fourth River, and various lifestyle blogs. She lives in Oakland, California and is writing a memoir about the four places she spread her father’s ashes.