Four lessons managers wish they’d learned sooner

A feeling of accomplishment, mixed with a dash of exhilaration and a healthy dose of uncertainty. If you’re transitioning into a management role for the first time in your career, you’re sure to experience a distinct mix of emotions. 

Anne Mulcahy, the former chairperson and CEO of Xerox Corporation, put it best when she described the goal of a successful manager. Make sure employees know that the boss cares. As in really, genuinely cares. 

“Employees who believe that management is concerned about them as a whole person—not just an employee—are more productive, more satisfied, more fulfilled,” said Mulcahy. “Satisfied employees mean satisfied customers, which leads to profitability.” 

So how do good leaders learn to manage effectively? The transition can be challenging and while missteps along the way are inevitable, it is also a fulfilling journey towards greater professional achievement and personal growth. 

To manage effectively, communicate clearly

A survey conducted by Interact found that 69% of managers are often uncomfortable communicating with employees, and 37% admit they’re uncomfortable having to give direct feedback about their employees’ performance if they think the employee might respond negatively to the feedback.

Poor communication is going to result in poor performance. Full stop. A manager who cannot explain how to execute a project or provide honest performance feedback will create disconnect within a team. The lack of direction will gradually erode productivity. Ultimately, workplace culture will dissolve, all because of the tone a manager sets.

While finding your voice as a manager can be difficult, Associate Professor at Brown University Banu Ozkazanc-Pan says it can be immensely fulfilling as long as you persist. 

“When becoming a manager, understand your strengths, your leadership preferences, and those of the individuals you’ll be managing,” Ozkazanc-Pan explains. 

“Be very clear about expectations, communicate them often and don’t forget to provide feedback and direction when needed.”

Vice Provost of Academic Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin Art Markman explains that in order to succeed, new managers need to trust that they have been given this responsibility for a good reason and then need to set clear employee expectations. 

“Compliment good performance often, but don’t be afraid to point out problems,” says Markman. 

“When you generally focus on catching people doing good things, your criticisms will not sting so much, because people will recognize that you also notice their positive contributions.”

It can in fact, be lonely at the top

If you’ve ever scoffed at this expression in the past, get ready. It’s natural for former coworkers you viewed as friends to feel separate from you as you settle into your new role. Finding footing as a team lead can take time, patience, and a few internal pep talks.

Executive career coach and creator of Livlyhood, Britt Larsen, says she will never forget when the truth behind this old cliche came into glaring focus for the first time.  

“That was an adjustment that was really hard to get used to, and often when you get promoted or start in a new executive role you don’t have many peers,” recalls Larsen. 

“I found that finding allies at different levels and in different departments was really helpful. I cultivated those relationships and spent time making sure they knew I had their back, because inevitably I would need them to have mine.”  

Markman points out that while making the transition into a supervisory role can be a shock to the social system, there are steps that can help soften the landing. 

“There is a tendency to want to treat your supervisees like peers, because that is the interaction that has been comfortable in the past. However, it is now up to you to set the tone and direction for the team,” explains Markman. 

“In addition, recognize that if you have been promoted before some of your friends, that you may have a rocky time hanging out with them socially (at least for a while). You have gone from being one of ‘us’ to being one of ‘them.’ Until you settle into your new role, you may find social time with your previous cohort awkward.”

Trust your team

Nothing spells trust like doling out responsibility, just like nothing spells distrust like a helicopter boss who demands constant oversight and stifling project involvement. By learning how and when to delegate tasks, good leaders demonstrate confidence in their team and an overall better approach to time management. 

“As a manager, you might be pulled away from direct, hands-on contact with the daily work,” explains Professional coach and Perfeqta Head of Culture and Client Partnerships, Dr. Tamara Dias.

“Delegating is going to be key, and knowing how to do it effectively will enhance your leadership long-term.”

Beyond enhancing your leadership style, delegating also acts as a critical skill to master so that you don’t suffer from major burnout as you transition into a new, demanding role. Remember, becoming a manager doesn’t provide any special immunity to the burnout that the majority of workers feel today. 

Unfortunately, quite the opposite. 

Managers report more stress and burnout and worse physical wellbeing and work-life balance than the people they manage, Gallup has found in recent years. Based on surveys conducted in 2020 and 2021, manager burnout is only getting worse, so doing what you can to remain calm under pressure is key for your mental health, your professional advancement, and the environment you’re creating for your team.

“Burnout is often associated with trying to do it all, and great managers trust their teams to do the work,” adds Dias. 

Good leaders listen

At one point or another, everyone can remember sitting across from a bad boss. One common theme? Their all-too obvious blank stare gave away their complete lack of interest or focus on whatever it was you were passionately explaining in their office. 

While managers do have a lot on their mental and physical to-do lists, listening to team members of all different rankings is what sets successful leaders apart from bad bosses. 

“Recognize individual contributors and make sure team goals are achievable,” suggests Ozkazanc-Pan. 

“Be willing to learn from your team so that you can not only get the resources they need from the organization but offer guidance and input when needed. Learn to listen and trust in your ability to grow into the position.”

One way to ensure you’re listening and focusing on individual contributors? Designate specific calendar time to connect to team members and don’t let other tasks take precedence over the time you’re setting aside. By prioritizing one on one meetings with employees and staying consistent with this practice, new managers signal a concerted personal investment.

“These conversations will allow them to get to know you and give you insight into their goals and ideas, says Dias. 

“It’s also an opportunity to build rapport, which is essential for any managerial role.”


four lessons managers need to know

Photo from KOBU Agency

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