the shape of leadership

Starting Well as a First-Time Manager

Five practices for laying a good foundation

When a leader steps into a management role for the first time, it can be both exciting and scary. The opportunity to lead at a higher level is exciting, but there can also be feelings of apprehension and anxiety.

We see a picture of management in Matthew 25:14–30. A master called his servants together and entrusted his wealth to them, distributing it according to each servant’s ability. When he returned from his long trip, the master settled accounts. In the end, the master honored those who managed his wealth wisely.

Similarly, leadership comes with great responsibility, and we will be held accountable for how we steward this opportunity. If you’re managing a team for the first time, start with these five practices:

1. Build Team Relationships

It’s easy to come in with bold visions and big plans for leading change. However, big changes minus good relationships rarely turn out well. That’s why the first step in management isn’t results but relationships.

Start by getting to know the team you’re leading. Invest time connecting, meeting one-on-one, and showing the people you lead that you truly care. Ask about their families, their interests, and their hopes and dreams for the future. Ask about their most important goals, their biggest challenges, and how you can help. And ask what they think the organization should stop doing and start doing.

As you listen carefully — without interrupting — your team will feel valued and respected. Most importantly, this thoughtful approach will communicate that you care about each person.

2. Create Organizational Alignment

As a manager, one of your roles is to ensure your team is aligned with the vision of the organization. This includes aligning staff, goals, funding, and communication so the vision can actually happen.

Great alignment removes personal agendas and sideways energy. It improves effectiveness and efficiency. And when new managers work toward alignment, they model teamwork as well as a commitment to the organization’s highest priorities.

The more you learn,
the better equipped
you’ll be to manage
your team well.

3. Conduct Helpful Meetings

Meetings are common in organizational life. Unfortunately, those meetings are often a waste of time. That’s why you need to design and lead meetings that matter. Two of the most important meetings you’ll lead are staff meetings and one-on-one meetings.

In staff meetings, leverage the four C’s: celebrate, communicate, collaborate, and coach. In other words, take time in the meeting to celebrate wins, communicate important updates, collaborate on strategic priorities, and coach the team through leadership training. This approach will keep you focused on what matters most and provide a meeting that is helpful for everyone involved.

When it comes to one-on-one meetings, choose to meet weekly, or at least every other week, with each person who reports to you. These meetings provide an opportunity for each team member to communicate updates, discuss challenges, and acquire helpful coaching. Your job as the manager is to support and encourage your team members, and to offer coaching that maximizes their growth.

4. Welcome Regular Feedback

Feedback helps leaders and teams grow. As a manager, work hard to create a healthy feedback culture. When your team sees that you humbly welcome feedback, they will perceive you as more approachable and more enjoyable to work with. Welcoming feedback lets people know you don’t claim to have all the answers, and you value their input.

To promote healthy feedback, be sure your team operates with the right spirit, the right system, and the right speed. Having the right spirit means delivering feedback with a balance of grace and truth. When you have the right system, you’ll be strategic about how you deliver and receive feedback, and you’ll implement appropriate feedback tools. The right speed means pacing feedback in a way that’s not overwhelming (too much) or unpredictable (too little).

5. Pursue Personal Growth

Great managers are lifelong learners. They’re not arrogant know-it-alls, and they don’t see themselves as answer people. Instead, they have a passion for personal growth. A posture of humility combined with an insatiable curiosity drives them to grow to their full capacity.

To maximize your growth, read management books, learn about the keys to increasing employee engagement, and interview other managers to discover best practices. The more you learn, the better equipped you’ll be to manage your team well.

Management is not easy, but these five tips will get you moving in the right direction. Most importantly, you’ll be on the road to building credibility with the people you lead and creating a culture that is meaningful and healthy.

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