Advice for new managers: Dos and don’ts of leadership

Stepping into a new leadership role is an exciting time. But once you’ve celebrated your new role and updated your LinkedIn profile, there will also be a lot of challenges to navigate as a new manager. From building a rapport with your team to problem-solving roadblocks that spring up in your new role, being a new manager comes with a lot of new responsibilities.

Whether you’re a first-time manager or just taking over as manager in a new company or department, there are a lot of things you should and should not do in this new chapter of your career. To help you navigate your new role, explore the best tips and advice for new managers below.

Advice for New Managers: The Dos and Don’ts of Leadership

Here are some key things that you should and should not do as a new manager.

Do understand the role of a manager and cultivate your skills

If you’ve just been promoted to a management role, that means you were probably doing quite well in your prior role. You have great job skills to model for your team. However, it’s important to understand that being a great individual contributor doesn’t automatically translate into being a great manager. Managing others requires some new skills that you may need to cultivate as you enter this new chapter of your career.

Managers act as coaches for their direct reports. It’s your job to provide guidance, set strategies, and cheer your team on as they do great work and grow in their own roles. You need to create the right environment where people can come up with great ideas and feel comfortable sharing them. Make sure that as you move into your new leadership role, you’re thinking about how to best provide that support and motivation for your team. It requires a bit of a shift in mindset if you’re used to going to work and just focusing on your job tasks and personal career growth.

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Do provide clarity and structure

Sometimes new managers want to come off as “a cool boss” or “the chill boss” by taking a more laid-back management style. That in itself is perfectly fine. However, many new managers go about this the wrong way and end up creating more stress for employees. Even if you plan to take a more relaxed approach to management, it’s important to provide some structure and set clear expectations for your new team.

Let your employees know what you expect from them and how you would like things done in the department. Tell them how you want them to communicate with you. Do you like emails and instant messages, or can people stop by your office with quick questions? Explain anything remote employees need to do communication-wise, such as checking in with you when they log on in the morning to verify that they’re on time and online.

If you’re not quite sure how to provide structure or clarity on procedural matters, ask them about the existing processes and then consider any changes that you would like. This can include how assignments are assigned and tracked or whether they need to check in with you before going on a break.

Do set one-on-one meetings with team members

Dedicating time to get to know each team member individually is one of the most important tasks to focus on in your first few weeks as a new manager. Typically you’ll want to have a meeting with the entire team on your first day, then get a meeting on the calendar with each direct report individually in your first couple weeks as a manager.

During the one-on-one meeting, you’ll want to talk to the employee about their role and how you can best support them. It can help to review their job descriptions and any performance documents such as past performance reviews or their current performance goals to get a better feel of what they do and where they are at in their career journey. This initial check-in meeting is also a good time to encourage them to ask questions or tell you if there’s something they need. They may have a questions about your leadership style, expectations, and other things.

Do encourage open communication

A change in leadership is challenging for both parties. There are bound to be miscommunications, frustrations, or feelings of uncertainty. Encourage your new team to come to you with any concerns or issues that they have. Then, ensure that you are responding to them calmly and respectfully when they do speak up with any concerns. This will help you build trust with your new team and encourage continued communication.

Do be willing to learn from employees

Good managers are always willing to listen and learn. Whether you’re a first-time manager or a seasoned leader stepping into a new role, there will be a lot that you can learn from your employees. They know the company’s culture, processes, software tools, and their roles better than you will in the beginning, so don’t be afraid to ask questions of them or solicit their feedback.

You’ll want to spend your first week or two focused on learning about the team and the company overall, and your employees will be one of your best sources of knowledge. Showing that you’re willing to listen to your direct reports will also go a long way in making a positive first impression and building productive working relationships.

Do learn to give constructive feedback

If you’re new to management, it can feel a bit odd to give feedback at first. However, employees really do want to hear your feedback, as long as it’s delivered with the right approach. If you see an opportunity for an employee to improve their work, go in with a coaching mindset and give them some feedback on what they could do differently to strengthen their performance. You’ll also want to continuously give feedback and acknowledge when you can tell that they have incorporated your suggestions.

Don’t forget to provide positive recognition

Be sure to give balanced feedback and recognize positive efforts frequently. When you’re a new manager it can feel like there are a million fires to put out everywhere and it can be easy to focus on the negatives. However, you don’t want to let that overshadow your team’s achievements and hard work.

Positive feedback and recognition will help you build better working relationships and keep your team motivated. The Achievers 2023 State of Employee Recognition Report found that employees who receive recognition weekly are more engaged, more productive and less likely to be searching for a new job. Make a conscious effort to speak up when an employee is doing well.

Don’t introduce changes too quickly

Sometimes you take over a new department or come into a new organization and see that there is a lot to be done. This is especially common when you join a start-up that is still finding its footing when it comes to practices and procedures. This can also be true when you take over a team that had the same leader for many years and has been stuck in their old ways. You may feel compelled to hit the ground running by putting new processes in place or quickly updating all of those outdated management practices, but the best advice is to slow down and prioritize.

Don’t micromanage

Give your employees room to make choices and decisions. You don’t want to get in the habit of micromanaging each employee’s day-to-day activities, and there will likely be aspects of their jobs that you’re not fully knowledgeable about as you come into your new role as a manager. Therefore, it’s important for employees to feel empowered in working independently and making decisions within their scope of work.

Don’t get stuck in your ways

Just as companies or teams may be stuck in their old ways and resistant to change, managers can be as well. If you’ve been a manager before and are starting a new role in a different company or department, this is a good opportunity to adjust or adapt your approach to management.

What worked with your last team may not work as well with your new team. The new company culture may also require a slightly different approach if you’ve changed companies. This can be especially true when switching between different types of organizations, such as going from a large corporation to a small start-up or a non-profit to a for-profit company. You’ll also want to be mindful of things like regional and generational differences in communication and attitudes toward work and consider how to adapt your approach based on these differences.

When in doubt, ask for feedback. Ask your team how you can best support them, what type of communications they prefer, and what level of oversight they feel they work best with. Great leaders are always building new management skills and adapting their leadership style to fit their team’s needs, so be open to taking a new approach when needed.

Don’t make promises that you can’t keep

Get comfortable saying phrases like “I will look into that and get back to you” or “I’ll do my best to make this happen”. New managers can sometimes be a bit overzealous with making promises to their teams. A new leader will see a problem and eagerly want to fix it, so they tell their team that they’ll get it sorted. The issue is that in the early stages of your new managerial role, you may not be familiar with all the roadblocks that may make it hard to change things.

Sometimes there will be a glaring issue that seems like a simple fix. Maybe your team is using a slow, and laborious process because they don’t have a new piece of software that most other companies use to automate or streamline certain functions. Or there may be a company policy that feels old and outdated, like an old-fashioned dress code that feels overly formal and non-inclusively gendered in today’s culture, that is causing frustration for your employees. You may hear the problem and think that it will be easy to solve, but you likely don’t know how resistant to change higher-level leaders are or how limited your team’s budget for new tools may be. Maybe past managers have brought up similar concerns and been denied already.

Instead of making promises for change, empathize with any concerns that employees bring up and make it clear that you will pass on those concerns and make an effort to get them addressed. If you’re a new mid-level manager, you’ll need to get comfortable with showing your team that you’re listening to them while balancing the fact that you may get pushback from higher-ups when it comes to changing policies or getting approval and funding for things that your team needs.

Don’t overlook your own needs

If you’re a first-time manager, you may find it hard to balance meeting your team’s needs with setting aside enough time for yourself. As an individual contributor, you could spend your time focused on your own work projects, career goals, and development needs. As a manager, you may find it hard to find uninterrupted time to just focus on your own work tasks or even take a lunch break. Your employees need support, timely answers to their questions, and for their concerns to be addressed, but your needs are important too.

A survey from The Predictive Index found that 79% of middle managers felt at risk of burnout from the stress of managing others. That same study also found that managers often don’t have enough time to participate in training and development activities for themselves. As you head into a new management position, be intentional about blocking out time for your own well-being and professional development. Know when to give yourself a break or a day off to fend off burnout and be sure to look for opportunities to continue to grow your leadership skills. That may mean blocking out a day to attend a management training class or something simple like finding a great leadership podcast to listen to while you catch up on paperwork.