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What You Need To Know About Becoming A Manager For The First Time

So, you’re becoming a manager at your startup. Good for you!

Usually, this sort of ascendency means that you are good at what you do. In fact, it probably means that you’re the best at it on your current team. Now, you’ve been called on to coach and lead others.

The good news?

You’re awesome.

The bad news?

Hiring, managing, coaching, and leading are now on your to-do list.

These are all skills that you are going to need to practice and learn. Quickly.

So, what do you need to know about becoming a manager for the first time?

Here are the top 5 things I see new managers struggle with, and how you can overcome them. As a bonus, I’ve included some recommended reading for each item, so that you can dig deeper and accelerate your learning curve.

Becoming A Manager For The First Time

1. Become The Coach Not The Teacher

After becoming a manager, you are now responsible for helping your team be successful in a role that you’ve already mastered. This may sound easy, but you will quickly learn that there is a big difference between doing the job, and helping someone else become successful.

The things that worked for you won’t necessarily work them. Plus, it isn’t your job to make them do the work in the same way you did. Rather, your job is to help them become successful in their own way.

Think of yourself more as a coach than a teacher.

In his book, The Coaching Habit: Say Less, Ask More, & Change the Way You Lead Forever, Michael Bungay Stanier outlines a simple and effective coaching method that will help you be more effective as a leader and coach.

In particular, his five-question method for handling 1-on-1’s can be a valuable tool for guiding and leading the right conversations. Coaching is not about training, rather it is about leading people to the right conclusions on their own. Use this series of questions to keep things moving in the right direction as you lead.

  1. What’s on your mind?
  2. And what else?
  3. What’s the real challenge here for you?
  4. How can I help?
  5. What do you want?
  6. If you’re saying yes to this, what are you saying no to?
  7. What was most useful for you?

2. Your Process Will Break (And It’s Your Job To Fix It)

If you’re being promoted, it’s probably a sign that your team is growing. That means that the process your team uses to communicate and get work done will probably stop working very soon.

When your team is small, your close proximity ensures that everyone will understand what everyone else is working on. As your team grows, this will become more difficult. It will no longer be necessary (or possible) for everyone to know everything. This means that you need to build a system that allows them to know the right things at the right time.

Failure to fix this communication gap will result in frustration, missed deadlines, and many headaches for you, the new manager.

You will need to invest your time in learning project management techniques that keep things sane. Agile project management can be a particularly valuable method for growing teams that want to add some structure, without going overboard.

At CoSchedule, we provide the book Scrum: a Breathtakingly Brief and Agile Introduction to every new hire. This easy to read guide provides a solid overview of the agile framework that can then be applied to all our different teams. My own book 10x Marketing Formula also includes several chapters about implementing basic agile principals into your marketing team’s daily activity.

3. Define The Standard of Performace

At the beginning of every football season, Vince Lombardi was famous for giving a speech to his team that started with a detailed explanation of the football itself. He would then go on to describe all the individual details of the game, and more importantly, what his expectations were for his team.

For a football team, this may seem a bit silly, but Lombardi knew that he had to set the standard for his team to follow. Even down to the tiniest detail, he made it clear what his expectations were.

He helped his team define what success looked like.

As a coach and manager, you will need to do the same. Before you were a manager, someone else set the standard for you. While you have become accustomed to meeting that standard, you may not be as ready to vocalize it. But, you’ll need to get there. It will be up to you to decide:

  • What does done look like?
  • What does good quality mean at our company?
  • What is our primary goal and objective as a team? As an individual?

In his book, The Score Takes Care of Itself: My Philosophy of Leadership, renowned football coach Bill Walsh outlines the importance of setting a clear standard of performance for your team. He articulates that when you set a clear standard of performance and communicate that standard consistently, your team will almost always rise to the occasion.

Thus, the score will take care of itself.

4. You Need To Define Clear KPI’s

Your team needs to be able to work independently, and that is always easier when they know what company metric, or KPI (key performance indicator), they are trying to influence.

It’s now up to you to set clear lead metrics and define your team KPI’s.

I’ve talked about KPI’s on this blog multiple times, but I cannot emphasize them enough. Most managers fail to set clear KPI’s, which leaves their team with an alarming lack of clarity and accountability. This is particularly important in digital marketing, where almost everything is measurable.

You will need to find one or two KPI’s that your team can focus on, and build a system for measuring and discussing them on a weekly basis. Once your KPI’s are defined, you should be able to attribute at least one of them to every project your team takes on.

For an in-depth look at this topic, please check our chapter 14 from my book 10x Marketing Formula.

5. What You Can Do That No One Else Can?

Before you were a manager, you always knew what you should be working on because it was assigned to you. Now, you need to concentrate on being a multiplier and not just a doer.

The book Multipliers: How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter by Liz Wiseman offers a great crash-course on this subject.

This transition, however, can leave new managers feeling a bit helpless. I remember not really knowing what I was supposed to be working on as a manager who had recently delegated most of my work to other (more qualified) team members.

Without filling this gap, you can easily turn yourself into a micro-manager, or someone who can’t peel themselves from their old ways. Both of these are a recipe for disaster.

I’ve found that getting over this hump is simply about asking yourself “what is the most valuable thing that I can provide to my team right now.” Answering this question daily and honestly will prevent you from sliding back into the old habits of doing so that you can be a more effective manager.

What can you, THE MANAGER, do that no one else can?

The answer to this question usually involves improving communication, adding clarity, and setting a vision for where we are all going. If you don’t do these things, who will?

Failure to lead will frustrate your team, and it will eventually frustrate you because you’ll fail to develop the skills that will make you a great manager. Reflect on these five areas with regularity, and I guarantee you’ll have more success as a manager, and gain more enjoyment out of the new role that you’ve earned!

Published by Garrett Moon

Garrett Moon is the author of the 10x Marketing Formula and CEO and co-founder of CoSchedule, the web's most popular marketing calendar and the fastest growing startup in North Dakota. You can follow Garrett on his blog, on LinkedIn, or on Twitter.