The Most Important Things a New Manager Should Know

Last updated: October 21, 2021
Estimated reading time: 4 min


A reader asked us:

“I’m a brand-new manager, and I want to be great at it. I’m reading your book, but I wonder what the absolute most important things are for me to know as I get started?”

The most significant change you need to embrace as a manager is that your success in your role is no longer about what you can get done on your own; now, it’s about what you achieve with and through other people. That takes a whole different set of skills and mindsets.

While we can’t sum up everything managers should know in a single article, we can tell you that effective managers create the conditions for their teams to get great results equitably and sustainably. They support teams to succeed by building strong relationships, setting ambitious goals, developing high-performing teams, seeking input, and giving clear feedback.

Here are five things new managers should keep in mind:

1. Make it your priority to build and cultivate relationships.

As a new manager, you are responsible for creating and shaping an environment where people—and the work—can thrive. This starts with building supportive relationships where you 1) inspire authenticity, 2) build trust, 3) navigate power, and 4) generate a sense of shared purpose. When you combine these four relationship-building competencies, you show people they can count on you, turn differences or conflicts into learning opportunities, and lay the groundwork for greater equity, sustainability, and results.

2. Get aligned with your team on what success looks like.

Setting goals with your team is one of the most important things you can do as a manager. When you paint a clear picture of success you can hand off real weight and ownership to your team members, which instills a shared sense of purpose and a drive to accomplish great results. Just think of what you can accomplish when you’re not doing everything yourself. Use strong, clear goals to measure progress and guide staff performance and development.

3. Invest in developing your team.

The makeup of your team has an enormous impact on your ability to advance equity, sustain the work, and get results, so be proactive about shaping it. Put significant energy into hiring, retaining, and developing people all the time—not just when you have a vacancy or onboard a new staff member. This includes hiring well from the start, setting people up for success with clear role expectations and coaching, and handling performance problems proactively.

4. Guide more, and do less.

If you’re like most managers we work with, you probably need to spend more time guiding and less time doing. Invest your time in aligning on expectations for the outcomes and process. Then, be proactive about checking in on progress and creating accountability and opportunities for reflection through debriefs. Remember that seeking feedback and giving feedback are both critical parts of an effective manager-staff relationship. Ask questions. Tell people what’s going well, and be forthright when things should be going differently. Be kind and direct.

If you do this well, you can be less in the mix when it comes to actually doing the work, which is the whole point of managing a team: to get more done than you would on your own.

5. Own your authority.

Even the most experienced managers feel imposter syndrome sometimes, especially when we have faced significant bias at work and in the world. As you seek input and offer guidance, show curiosity and humility, but don’t hide the ball when you’re exercising authority. It’s not always your job to know the answers, but it is your job to find solutions, bring your expertise, and be decisive. Be transparent about your decisions (especially the tough ones) and share your rationale. Mitigate your own defensiveness and own your mistakes. Be clear about when you’re delegating an assignment and, above all, treat your staff with dignity and respect, even during the toughest moments, like letting someone go.

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