The Top Mistakes First Time Managers Make

I first became a manager by chance. My team leader had left abruptly for another job and we needed someone to fill the position, almost immediately. I’d like to say I was qualified, but I don’t really think I was. I was certainly eager, which was the thing my company liked the most. With no previous training, and very little guidance, I jumped into the position. I made a lot of mistakes; looking back at these mistakes, I recognize them time and time again in different managers I’ve had.

Blame it on a lack of experience, or training, but these are the most common mistakes I see in first time managers. You’ll never be a perfect manager, there is simply no such thing. But my hope is that by identifying these, you’ll be able to call yourself out more often and avoid these common pitfalls.

Not delegating enough

This may seem trivial, but it’s not. Most first time management positions are promoted from other positions in the company, usually to a role like Team Lead or Assistant General Manager. In this case you were promoted for a reason: you get shit done. You’re used to being the one who works their ass off, who the company calls on when they’re in a pinch.

You aren’t this person anymore. Though you are responsible for getting your tasks done at the end of the day, you shouldn’t be the person who does them. Being a manager is about managing people, growing a workforce and a creating team. You need to enable your team to get the job done — this happens by giving them the hard work and allowing them to fail.

Failure sucks. No one want’s to fail, especially when you’re a first time manager and you feel like you have something to prove. Part of being a manager means giving your team the tasks and giving them the opportunity to succeed. With proper training and time, they’ll be accomplishing far more than you ever could individually. When a person feels like their manager trusts them with a difficult task, it makes them want to work harder, and show that trust is not misplaced in them.

Your team should make you feel like you’re looking at your mother’s good china sitting at the tip of the edge of a table — almost halfway off the table already. You should be anxious that it will fall and break. Hopefully, if it does, you’ll be there to catch it before it falls; sometimes you won’t be. But this is where real growth is enabled, where you and your team and can really thrive. So next time something urgent or important happens, do your best to delegate it to someone on your team.

Delegating too much

This may seem odd considering what I just said, but think about it. Your team should feel as though you have their back. That means you should work on your plan and let them in on it. You should take some work because even as a team leader, you are still a part of your team. Don’t take too much, and don’t take every hard task, but make sure you don’t lose touch with the work or the difficulty of what you are asking your team to do. Humility is essential.

Not setting expectations

This one is tricky. As you move up a company, you become privy to all sorts of company information the higher-ups may not want you to share with your team. It’s not always great to tell your team “If we don’t nail this, the company is going to be in serious hot water.” But it is important to make your team feel like they know what is going on.

Think about it like a relationship. If you called your partner and said “Hey babe, this is such a busy day for me, can you run to 3 different stores, fix the sink, and call my grandma for me?” they would probably be less than enthused. However, if you sit with them at the beginning of the week, explain which days are busy for you and what needs to be done when, you should be able to work out a plan to get everything done and keep your relationship happy.

The same is for you and your team members; this is a relationship you want to give longevity. If you tell them on the final day of a deadline that this is incredibly important and they need to have everything done, it will cause pressure, and a fair bit of antagonism. But if you prep them, set expectations and let them in on the plan for success, they will feel much more comfortable to be along for the ride. Just like a relationship: my problems are your problems.

Separating yourself from the pack

This one may seem somewhat counterintuitive. Part of what got you this position was sticking out from the pack. But once you become a manager, you need to think of yourself as your team at all times. For example, if you start saying “Helen, you need to clean the staplers and Gerrard, you need to polish the doorstoppers” you’ve inadvertently reinforced that you are not a part of your team. This is what “you” need to do, but not me. If instead you approach this as a team and say “Alright team, this week we need to clean the staplers and polish the doorstoppers. Here’s how we’re gonna split this up: Helen, you’re on staplers and Gerrard, you’re on doorstoppers”, you’ve approached the tasks as a team, as a single unit working together. Yes — you still told each person what they needed to to do. But you approached it with the team in mind. To really drive this home, give yourself a task as well and inform the team on what you’ll be doing: “and I’ll be waxing the printer.”

Very few people like their manager, it comes with being in charge. Managers can be admired, but at the end of the day, people want something or someone to complain about and you will become the easiest target. If you approach work with a “me vs. you” mentality, your team sees you as being against them and it will foster a poor relationship between you and your employees. Remember, it should be us vs. the world, not of me vs. you.

Having an ego

If you want to be a great manager you have to kill your ego. Everyone has goals and aspirations; hooking these to your ego is one of the quickest ways to foster discontent with your team. One of the easiest ways to see this is by taking credit. When your team does a good job, it reflects on you. Your manager is likely to come to you and give you praise. The ego will say thank you. The leader will humbly point out either who it is on your team, or say it is your whole team that deserves the credit. This goes right in line with thinking of you as your team. Get rid of “you” and think only of the team.

You still have goals, but leave them to the side for now. Focus on being the best team unit you can be, and you’ll be shocked at the results. When your team feels like you are with them, supporting them, and lifting them up, they will want to not just work for you, but do good work for you. Before you know it you will create an effective unit rather than a collection of individuals.

Another display of this, is in the way you act. Your team will start to take on your traits. If you are lazy, it is that much more likely your team is lazy. My gym switched managers not long ago and it was shocking to me how the attitude of the employees changed. With the first manager, there were always smiling and energetic. With the new manager they were much more lax and lethargic. The same employees were working and when asked they said they liked both managers and didn’t notice too much different. But when the leadership’s attitude and demeanour changed it seeped into that of the employees as well.

Just like a small child will look to its parent to see how they should react, your team will look to you. This doesn’t mean you should become a corporate robot — there is something to be said about authenticity here. But you should act in the teams best interests; remember the team is watching and you should react how you want them to react.

One of the hardest things to acknowledge about entering management, is that you are much closer to failure at all times. Anytime something goes wrong, a deadline is missed or a delivery isn’t good enough, you are the point of contact. You are the person who is asked or berated, and the turn around is far less when you do well. Management is often a thankless job. But when you put in the work to make yourself a better manager, everyone benefits. Your team, your company, and mostly you. Your job will become that much easer, and with time you’ll hear less and less negative. Like I said before, there’s no such thing as a perfect manager, but there is an improving manager. Those who have longevity in the field of management are learning off their mistakes and always improving.

Software engineer and literature nerd. Can be found drinking coffee and thinking about Lord of the Rings.

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