8 Tips For A First Time Manager – Tips From An IIM Ahmedabad Alumnus

Drawing from my limited experience over the last 8 months:

#1: “There will be blood”

Despite your best efforts and intentions, there would be internal team clashes, conflicts with external stakeholders, and friction between you and the team. Things will never run perfectly. You would need to know how to defuse any such situation.

When I had just started, a small altercation between two of my team members soon blossomed into a full-blown argument. I enter the bay after a coffee break to witness deadly silence, tears, and an atmosphere thick with tension. One of my team members took me aside and explained what happened in the last 15 minutes. I quickly called one of the two concerned individuals to a meeting room to hear their side of the story, then the other, then a couple of senior witnesses. After hearing all accounts, I called up both the fighting sides together and put down my assessment of the situation, clearly flagging the judgment errors from both. Fortunately, things somewhat cooled off. In order to prevent any more backlash from it or future recurrences, I laid down some ground rules:

  • I am available anytime to discuss anything
  • If someone is not comfortable talking to me, they have the full freedom to talk to our business HR without even informing me
  • The two of them have to try and make it work since they would be working together for the foreseeable future
  • A cooling off period of a couple of days where any direct communication between them would be discouraged, with email communication being preferred
  • A coffee “date” for them so that they can get to know each other’s perspective better

#2: “It is dangerous to go alone”

The relationship dynamic between a team and a manager is symbiotic. There will be occasions when the team would have to go the extra mile in order to achieve something. And unless they place complete trust in you, there wouldn’t be sufficient motivation for them to do so.

Remember, “People leave bosses, not organisations”.

#3: “You’re no Superman”

A managerial role does not mean doing everything. Effective delegation and empowering of the team members is a crucial aspect to achieve the maximum output.

#4: Monkey see, monkey do

Just like kids emulate their parents and teachers, professionals too involuntarily tend to imbibe the ideologies and mannerisms of their boss/manager/mentor.

That would mean that you have to now hold yourself up to a higher standard – professional and ethical – than before. You need to lead by example.

I have had 4 managers till date, all of them fantastic leaders. Luckily, I have picked up some good habits from them – “first time right” approach, empathetic listening, publicly appreciating good work, open communication channels etc. And I have been trying to inculcate the same in my team.

#5: Early Warning Signs

For a new manager, the first few weeks are a critical period of constant flux. It will take time to get used to the new sets of responsibilities and the updated personal dynamics.

Whenever there are shifts in a team’s management, there are bound to be some people who will not be happy with it. There will be doubts, unsaid apprehensions. In order to effectively gauge and counter the same, you need to read between the lines, searching for any signs of an impending adversarial outcome.

The best way would be to spend sufficient one-on-one time with every team member in the first few weeks to gauge their mood, take note of their aspirations, and table any concerns. Then a few weeks later, have a follow-up discussion on all crucial points to enumerate the steps taken to address the same.

#6: The subtle art of saying “No”

More often than not, external stakeholders will try to assert dominance when you are still trying to make sense of things. This is a very critical period that would determine the power dynamic between you and them. And while it is always preferable to keep everyone happy, it should not come at any cost, especially to the team.

You will need to carefully examine every situation to judge if the ask is reasonable. And in cases where you find that it isn’t, you need to put your foot down.

#7: Communication is essential

Remember to keep communication channels between you and the team open. People shouldn’t have to think before reaching out to you for any matter, however trivial. You should be cognizant of what topics to bring up during group discussions, and which ones to reserve for personal interactions.

Make it a note to openly and frequently appreciate people for their achievements and to always provide constructive criticism behind closed doors.

Also essential is utilising the different modes of communication. If it is something minor/transactional any form of communication should do (I am fine with my team calling me up, or pinging me on FB or Whatsapp for anything small). However, if it is more long term and strategic, it should be clearly outlined in a formal email.

#8: The dual responsibility of a manager

One imperative of a team lead is business-oriented – to maximise the quantity and quality of output from their teams and ensure that it is in line with the larger business goal.

But a second, equally important role is people-oriented – to plan and expedite the professional growth and job satisfaction of their teams. Your aim shouldn’t be to blindly keep a random number (read: attrition) under control at all times. People will leave eventually. And in some cases, it is even desirable. If they are moving to a newer role or domain, exploring uncharted territories, it is a positive movement – reduce this from your attrition calculation. It isn’t attrition, but evolution.

The first thing me and my manager did when we took over the responsibility for our current team was to have an informal off-site with the aim of laying down some ground rules, getting to know the team better, and clearly outlining the expectations from both ends.

For me and my boss, some 25–30 deliverables were listed during the course of an open forum. We have been working on the same for the past 6 months and have managed to address and complete more than 50% of them, with another 10 or so being currently WIP. We also put together an elaborate “Growth and Development” agenda from our side for the team. Everyone was required to complete 150 hours of training and self-learning via a combination of certifications, MOOCs, and internal training sessions.

We’ve also expanded the scope of responsibilities for all team members to provide more exposure. And in a couple of cases, we are facilitating their movement to a different team because that is what they want to do (despite the fact that their leaving the team would be difficult for us). By doing so, (and I would like to believe that), we have positioned ourselves as being there for the team and fostered a sense of trust that would go a long way.


*This article first appeared on Quora