Stepping up to manager

Congratulations! You’ve been promoted and now you have a team to manage. Scary! But Jo Emerson has some sound advice for any new manager.

Becoming a manager for the first time is a mixed blessing. On the one hand you’re flying high because your skills and talents have been recognised, you’re earning more money and you have more autonomy. When people first become a manager they often feel that their career is finally taking off and the validation the role brings can be a real confidence boost.

However, stepping up into the manager’s role can, in practice, be incredibly tough because you’re transitioning from pack member to pack leader, from running projects to managing people and from playing a reactive role to having to think proactively each day. Many of my clients find this stage of their careers the most challenging because, in reality, managing people (especially those you used to work alongside as a peer) can be a recipe for self-doubt, being overwhelmed and lead to confused communication.

But, take heart! There’s a lot you can do to make yourself into a great manager; someone that people will go the extra mile for. It takes time, vision and practice but the rewards will serve you throughout your career.

Below is a summary of what has worked for my clients. It’s in no way an exhaustive list but it should give you a very firm foundation upon which to build. So, grab a pen and paper and work through the five steps, applying the principles to your situation. Oh, and remember, you are learning so allow yourself to make mistakes along the way…

1 Know the kind of manager you want to be

Knowing who you want to be as you manage your team is the most crucial first step because without it you will easily lose your way. Think of this step as defining your destination so that you’ll know when you’re off course. For example, you may write down that you want to be a supportive, door-alwaysopen, parental type of manager. Great! If, then, you find yourself skipping on your regular team appraisals you’ll know you’re not living up to your vision of who you want to be as a manager and from here you can take steps to correct it.

In deciding the type of manager you want to be you need to take into consideration what the business needs from your team and what your teams needs from you in order to achieve this. For example, a team of young graduate PR executives might need a more hands-on approach than a team of more mature market researchers. So, know your team and work out how your personality style can best support them.

Often my clients find it easier to write down who they DON’T want to be as a manager rather than envision who they do want to be. This is an equally great place to start. The point is to have a vision and then take steps to achieve it every day.

2 Know the kind of team you want to create

Once you know the kind of manager you want to become you then need to consider the type of team you want to create. I have a client who recently took on her first directorate and her vision was to create a team recognisable for its positivity, inclusivity and energy. With this in mind she wrote down practical things she could introduce to ensure the team edged closer towards her vision. Things like mandatory positive daily feedback, weekly team meetings chaired on rotation by different team members and earlyfinish- Fridays were some of her ideas. She also communicated clearly to her team and to her boss what her expectations were for her team and why.

My client has turned her team around – from the fairly dejected, negative group of people she inherited to a proactive, positive, cohesive team. She achieved this over a period of three months by chipping away daily at the old and creating the new.

Your team will be a reflection of you as manager so you must lead by example. If you expect punctuality from your team then don’t be late! If you expect positivity from your staff members then ensure you’re a positive influence yourself.

3 Use questions more and instructions less

One of your jobs as manager is to get the best out of your team; this means developing and growing your people by supporting and empowering them. One of the best ways to do this is to use questioning rather than telling. For example, if your team member comes to you with a problem you have a choice; you could tell them what to do or you could use clever questioning to help them find their own answer:

  • “What ideas have you had to solve this?”
  • “What would you do if you had all the resources available to you to solve this?”
  • “What have you overcome in the past that might help here?”

By asking your team member questions you are empowering them to get involved in finding an answer to the problem. Together you find a solution, which builds trust and develops your team into the proactive, empowered, self-starters you want them to be!

Of course, sometimes you’ll need to just tell someone what to do but try to make this the exception rather than the rule…

4 Show your appreciation

I do a lot of executive coaching and training and one of the most regular things I hear is: “I don’t know if my boss appreciates me or not”.

People need to be told they are doing well but not everyone hears things in the same way. Some people LOVE public recognition and team applause whilst others would find this excruciating. Those in the latter category would probably much rather receive a quick email in which their boss told them how much their work was appreciated. My point is that you, as manager, need to work out what each member of your team needs in order to feel appreciated and then DO IT! So many of my team building days involve bosses telling their teams just how well they’re doing and team members hearing this for the first time – don’t fall into this trap!

5 Manage your time

As a manager you often have two jobs – the delivery of your own projects and managing the people in your team as they deliver on their projects. This can feel like a huge task so you need to be organised with your time. There is no magic formula for this as every team and every manager’s workload is different but I would encourage you to spend the first hour of your working week allocating time for the things you need to achieve and the people you need to support in order to avoid becoming overwhelmed.

All of the steps above come with the caveat that your number one job as manager is to foster a culture of open communication within your team. You must be clear about your expectations and you must allow and facilitate ways for your team to communicate clearly and honestly with you. If you do nothing else, do this, as it’s the number one key to successful management! One of my favourite training days is Creating an Open Feedback Culture because, in so many organisations, the ability to feedback to your boss and colleagues is either not encouraged or is actively discouraged. But, happy staff are those who feel valued and you value people by LISTENING to them! So, create time to feedback to your team and encourage them to feedback to you. This is how you and your team will continue to grow…

Jo Emerson is one of the UK’s top confidence and communication coaches and trainers, helping teams and individuals understand themselves better, reach their full potential and enjoy their work. Visit