What are the Most Important Things a New Manager Should Know?

A reader recently 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 biggest change you’re going to face 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 through other people. That takes a whole different set of skills and behaviors. While we can’t sum up everything managers should know in a single page (that’s what the book is for!), if we could only tell new managers three things, it would be these:

1. Figure out what success would look like for your team, and make sure you clearly convey it to them.

Setting goals with your team that clearly describe what success would look like is one of the most important things you can do as a manager. It’s what will allow you to hand off real weight and responsibilities so that you’re not doing everything yourself, and it will help you and your team get aligned about where energy should (and shouldn’t) be going. Goals are what you’ll measure progress against, and how you’ll know how people are performing.

2. Great people are crucial, and that means one of your key jobs is to manage the makeup of your team.

Managers often assume that the team they inherited – or even the team they built themselves – is the team they’re supposed to keep. But the makeup of your team will have an enormous impact on your ability to get results, so you must be proactive about shaping it. (This is key, essential, imperative!) That means that you should put significant energy into getting, keeping, and developing high performers and letting go of people who don’t reach a high bar. That isn’t always going to be easy, but it’s going to be a critical lever in what you can achieve.

3. 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. You want to invest your time in clearly communicating your expectations for what outcomes you’re looking for and making sure that you and your staff members are on the same page about how the work will unfold, and then in checking in on progress and creating accountability and learning afterwards. If you do this right, you should be able to be more hands-off when it comes to actually doing the work – which, after all, is the whole point: to get more done than you would on your own.

Part of guiding, of course, is giving feedback, and it’s key that you don’t shy away from that. Tell people what’s going well, and be forthright when things should be going differently. And never hint – be kind, but be direct.

Bonus tip:  Treat people well. Holding people to a high bar doesn’t mean that you can’t treat them kindly in the process. Don’t yell, belittle people, get defensive, or neglect to acknowledge great performance. Treat your staff with dignity and respect, even during the toughest moments, like letting someone go. (And this will make high performers want to work with you all the more.)