10 Expert Tips for New (and Aspiring) Managers

A guide for first-time managers: best practices from leaders at Intercom, Unbounce, Square (and more!) on the transition from individual contributor to manager.

Tips for New Managers

There’s no better feeling than the “aha” moment when you realize that you’re ready to step up in your job and take on more of a managerial position. Better than this realization is seeing all of your hard work and perseverance materialize when you become a manager. Making this transition to becoming a manager is definitely exciting but it can also be super daunting… Now that you have this added responsibility, how do you adopt the right management style and skills? 

If you’re on your way to becoming a manager or have just become one (congrats!), you’re in the right place. To support you in your new managerial endeavours we asked a panel of experts for their most valuable advice and tips for new managers. 

Here are ten expert tips from our #ManagerChats on the topic of the transition from individual contributor to manager:

1 Act like a leader before you become one

Ever heard of the saying, “fake it ‘til you make it”? Well if you’re on the road to becoming a manager, this is an instance where you can bring that expression to the table. There’s a lot you can do to prepare yourself before you actually move into a new position. It’s very important to take initiative for your own growth and development. 

Tara Larson, Head of Tech and Startup Partnerships at Intercom shares what she did on the road to becoming a manager: 

Having confidence in yourself is very important if you want to become a manager. Ask and you shall receive (that is, if you work for it!). 

Jennifer Pepper, Lead of Content Marketing at Unbounce suggests being up-front and straight-forward with your manager:

Understanding how to gain specific skills or competencies that your more experienced peers showcase is a great way of showing interest and progressing in your role. 

The bottom line is to be proactive in your journey to becoming a manager. Leandro, founder of Unubo, details this approach, sharing: 

Your development is in your own hands which means that you have the ability to read up on a topic, take courses, and learn from others. If you’re offered a promotion and you’re not prepared, you’re going to feel pretty silly for not putting in the work beforehand. 

2 Learn to delegate

It’s not always easy moving into a position of authority. It can be super uncomfortable when you need to delegate tasks and responsibilities to other individuals- especially if they’re a former co-worker. 

Andrew Exler, Founder & Chief Strategist of Andrew Exler Consulting talks about how learning to delegate was a tough challenge to overcome when he became a manager:

Another tough part of learning to delegate to other team members, is letting go of the belief that we can handle everything by ourselves. It’s important to recognize that delegating tasks allows your team to support you and help the company achieve its goals. 

Sometimes delegating tasks can sort of feel like a loss of control. As the Director of Marketing at Crescendo and Head of Marketing at Eirene, Anita Chauhan experienced this challenge: 

Finally, Alexandra Sunderland, our Engineering Manager at Fellow.app gives us a great reminder to delegate things that will help your direct reports with their professional development, even if they are things you enjoy doing: 

3 Adapt your management style to each team member

It’s easy to assume that others want to be managed in the same way that you find effective, but it’s really important that you have the ability to adapt your management style to each team member. You guessed it, that means getting to know them and what works best for their learning style. Fellow.app’s Engineering Manager, Alexandra shares her obstacles in confronting different management styles:  

Similarly, Leandro from Unubo argues that adapting your style means playing to each person’s strengths:

If you can adapt your management style to different team members by playing their strengths, you are going to produce happier and more productive employees who appreciate your tailored approach to their development. 

As Sara Varni (CMO at Twilio) said in the Supermanagers Podcast:

“What motivates you as an employee might not motivate your team members. Getting down to what truly motivates each employee is really critical if you want to drive optimal results across that entire team.”

4 Be an active listener

In order to be a strong leader, you need to be an active listener. The best way for you to prompt your team members to speak up is by asking them open-ended questions and showing a genuine interest in their thoughts, opinions and ideas. 

Intercom’s Tara Larson lists this tip as one of the most important aspects of managing: 

5 Stay organized

You’ve got to stay in the know and on top of your responsibilities as a manager. Take some time to work on your time management and prioritizing skills. For example, it’s a great idea to schedule some time for planning and reflection, as well as a weekly team meeting to set weekly priorities with the team. Don’t forget to be crystal clear with deadlines and priorities.

Connor Skelly, Marketing Director at Brightfield Group speaks to the importance of staying organized: 

Productivity Tip

Bringing your team together on a regular basis is a great way to set clear priorities and stay aligned. With Fellow, your team can record action items in real-time, track and prioritize tasks in-between meetings, and automatically carry-forward incomplete action items to the next meeting.

Meeting Action Items App

6 Build a culture of feedback

Another important point in this guide for first-time-managers is to build a culture of feedback. Weave feedback into your team’s DNA by showing your team it’s safe to give and receive feedback. If your team feels confident that you’ll take their input in a constructive way, they’ll feel much more comfortable sharing their honest feedback.

Trainual’s Public Relations and Brand Manager, Becky Winter, talks about the difficulty of delivering feedback and how a specific management book, Radical Candor helped her see feedback in a more positive light: 

Katie LeClair, Team Lead of Communications and Marketing at Invest Ottawa talks about the importance of collecting feedback after implementing new processes: 

If you’re managing a team for the first time, make sure to ask your team for feedback about your first team meeting, and any new processes that you plan to implement with the team.

7 Schedule regular one-on-one meetings

It’s so important to schedule recurring one-on-one meetings with your team members to promote engagement, instil trust, and work on your overall working relationships. 

Jamie Petten, President and Executive Director at the Kanata North Business Association, argues that consistent check-ins are an essential tool for both new and experienced managers:

[Check out this post with 10 expert tips for effective one-on-ones to learn more!]

Adam McGurk, Lead Developer at Shine Solar, talks about how certain issues can be confronted in one-on-one meetings and prevent an issue escalating: 

One-on-one meetings provide an ideal opportunity to talk about these “blockers” that Adam is talking about. If you’re a first-time manager, some questions you can ask at your first one-on-one meeting include:

  • What motivates you the most?
  • What kind of projects are you most excited to work on?
  • What is your preferred method of communication?
  • How do you prefer to receive recognition – publicly or privately?

For the actual transition into management, you can schedule a 1:1:1 meeting. Lara Hogan, author of Resilient Management, talks about what this 1:1:1 meeting is and what the goals are: 

“A 1:1 is between you and your manager; a 1:1:1 includes both your former manager, AND your new manager, and is an opportunity to ensure your career momentum doesn’t experience that hiccup.

The goals of a 1:1:1 are:

  • Sharing relevant information from the previous manager to the new manager in a transparent way (so that the direct report can get an opportunity to disagree or clarify).
  • Reducing the natural career friction, pausing, or hiccups that happen when a person gets a new manager.

Moving from individual contributor to manager isn’t always easy. Alexandra from Fellow.app shares her feedback on the 1:1:1 Manager handoff, sharing: 

“For the actual transition, we had a 1:1:1 Manager Handoff. It looks like it’d be awkward but I promise it’s not as bad as you think it will be, and 100% worth it for everyone!”

The Art of the One-on-One Meeting is the definitive guide to the most misunderstood and yet powerful tool for managers.

one on one meeting guide

8 Help your direct reports grow

It’s important to support your team members’ professional growth and development in their role. In fact, this is a huge part of being a manager: guiding and coaching your direct reports to success. When managers take the time to understand where each team members’ interests lie, their motivations and aspirations, they can make a substantial difference in their growth. 

Senior Social Media Manager at Databricks, Syed Ali, speaks to the importance of showing that you care about you team members’ professional development: 

Similarly, Hilary Windrem, Director of Brand Marketing at CIBC reiterates the idea of offering stretch assignments to your direct reports, and making sure your team members know that you are there to support and guide them in their roles: 

9 Communicate goals and expectations

It’s important to be understood when communicating your expectations with your direct reports. Don’t expect what you don’t communicate clearly. Instead be direct in setting expectations and desired results. 

Square’s Engineering Manager, Ryan O’Neill, talks about how setting expectations with his employees allowed him to improve working relationships: 

According to Syed from Databricks, this is especially important when you start managing former peers:

10 Never stop learning

So you’re on the road to becoming a manager or you’re new in this management role. Think the hard work is over? Think again! As a manager, you should never stop learning about different approaches and management styles. You’re sure to have to try a couple of different strategies before you really see what works best for you and your employees. 

Juanita Lee Garcia, Senior Manager of Strategic Partnerships and Social Impact at Venture for Canada, suggests continuous learning through reading management books, such as Michael Watkins’ The First 90 Days

Ryan from Square highlights that another great way to foster continuous learning is to set up one-on-one meetings with other managers and ask them for their advice:

Finding a mentor or colleague that is experienced is another great way to keep learning. Our Director of Marketing at Fellow.app, Erin Blaskie speaks to this: 

[Read our top 10 tips from Julie Zhuo’s The Making of a Manager]

The promotion from individual contributor to manager is equally exciting as it is challenging. Transitioning into this new role means learning new skills that are going to help you excel in your management position. Make sure to refer back to this guide for first-time-managers whenever you need a reminder of some of the tips you should be putting into practice. 

That’s a wrap on our expert tips for new managers. Thanks for dropping in and we’ll see you next time for our #ManagerChats!

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About the author

Kate Dagher

Kate Dagher (Postgraduate H.Dip Psychology and BA in Business Management) has a management and corporate consulting background, having worked in the public sector, sales, and corporate finance. Kate is fascinated about how our physical environments influence our thoughts, behaviours, actions and wellbeing. She is a certified yoga teacher, a passionate writer, and traveller.

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