Managing a team for the first time is an exciting opportunity but it can also be a little daunting. In this article, I share some tips for reaching your leadership potential in the first 30 days as a newbie manager.
But where to start? Many would be tempted to begin with the practical activities that drive business performance such as setting expectations, establishing milestones, and prioritizing projects. But the success of these activities is determined by the underlying culture you’ve created through “soft” leadership skills: communication, teamwork, flexibility, and empathy.
It’s a good idea, therefore, to balance your attention between practical activities and culture development. Don’t make the error of delaying action on culture while you “get things done”, as you’ll miss out on the higher performance benefits that a thriving team culture can create.
So, in no particular order, here are the top activities to make your first 30 days as a new manager a success.
New team, new you? Some managers may see their leadership responsibilities as an opportunity to reinvent themselves. But if this means you are pretending you are someone you’re not, your team will inevitably see through this inauthenticity.
Authentic leaders don’t leave their personalities at the door when they come to the office. They are courageous enough to show vulnerability rather than wearing their armor of professionalism at all times. Be human, and be yourself.
Get to know your team
Meet your team individually. Explore everyone’s working preferences and avoid a one-size-fits-all approach to leadership. For example, person A may prefer to be managed via frequent check-ins to feel supported, while person B may prefer a much lighter touch.
If you intend to be an empathetic leader, getting to know your team members’ personal situations, goals and dreams is essential. This will enable you to understand their perspectives and communicate more effectively.
Once you’ve met with everyone individually; meet with them as an entire team. Observe the dynamics – who talks the most? Who is the quietest? Give everyone a chance to speak and ask questions that encourage discussion.
Write down everything you hope to achieve in the next 30 days. While every task may seem equally important at first glance, there are different strategies for prioritizing projects. For example, you may choose to prioritize by urgency (things that will have serious consequences if deadlines are missed), prioritize by value to the business, or by estimated effort. You may decide to begin with the projects that are a good match for your team’s current capability levels, and delay other projects until you have had time to upskill or hire new team members.
Be flexible and realistic. Business priorities can change at a moment’s notice, which means your priorities will need to change, too.
Set expectations for individuals and at the team level. Create clearly defined, measurable objectives and iterative milestones that leave no room for misunderstanding or confusion among the team. Make employees accountable for achieving these goals, and establish a feedback system to help keep people on track.
Review and address team capabilities
Establish the skills and attributes your team will require to meet your targets, then conduct a capability assessment to identify any gaps. Decide whether these gaps are best filled through hiring or skills development such as training courses or on-the-job coaching.
Give the team autonomy
Autonomy is about trust. Managers who trust their teams to do their best will communicate a clear vision and set expectations, equip their teams with the tools they need to get the job done, then step back and watch the magic happen. It’s no secret that the key to great leadership is to focus on outcomes rather than output.
Observe how the team works together and identify opportunities for improvement. Some strategies for improving teamwork include hosting team-building activities and encouraging informal social events. Look for communication bottlenecks and address them by providing the right tools. Teams thrive if you provide them with autonomy, but do not hesitate to step in and offer quick and efficient conflict mediation when necessary.
Create a psychologically safe environment
A psychologically safe environment means team members can speak up, share their ideas, or disagree with their superiors (you) without fear of reprisal. This can be very difficult for insecure managers who seek to protect their way of doing things by refusing to allow debate. This sort of environment is essential for promoting innovative thinking and unlocking the benefits of diversity and inclusion.
Think you’re doing well as a new manager? How do you know? Establish a feedback loop to find out your team’s candid opinion of your performance as a manager and what they’d like to see improved.
Feedback can be confronting, so do your best to overcome your instinct to be defensive. Thank your team for their openness and honesty, own your mistakes, and share how you plan to improve.