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  • Published Dec 08, 2023

The Art of Managing People: Insights for New Leaders

Unlocking your potential as a new manager. Practical guidance for first-time managers navigating new responsibilities and team dynamics.

Devanshi Punch
Devanshi Punch

Happy Companies

Two colleagues working at a coffee table, one teaching the other

Managing People is an Art Worth Mastering

Stepping into a managerial role for the very first time often stirs a mix of emotions – discomfort at rising above peers, excitement for the new challenge, eagerness to impress, and doubts about leadership abilities. It's a milestone that combines the thrill of achievement with the weight of new responsibilities.

This transition from being a team member to a team leader is more than just a title change; it's a shift in perspective and function. As a new manager, you're now in charge of not just your own work output, but also that of your team. This change brings with it a unique set of challenges, often intensified by a lack of training or experience, and potentially – clear-cut expectations.

Navigating this new landscape requires a blend of skills, many of which are not inherent to the role you've just left. How does one transition to managing people at work without losing the camaraderie and trust built over time? It’s not easy. The answer lies in the subtle art of emotional intelligence. Understanding not only your own motivations but also those of your team members becomes a pivotal skill. This emotional acuity paves the way for building robust, trust-based relationships, especially with those you directly manage.

Often, confronted with a host of responsibilities and expectations, new managers compile an extensive list of tips for managing people – from setting SMART goals to honing communication skills, from mentoring individuals to actively seeking feedback. While these skills are undeniably important, prioritizing them over the foundational element of trust built through spending time with your direct reports can lead to a shaky start.

Quote by Loren Kutsko, Chief Growth Officer at Happy, which reads "Leaders craving the spotlight often miss the path to true greatness. Great leadership actually happens behind-the-scenes, where selfless acts, not showy stunts, cultivate the kind of a team people love to be on"

"Many leaders want to be noticed for their great leadership, but the things one does to be noticed and the things one does to be great are often in conflict," explained Loren Kutsko (on our team at Happy Companies, and an accomplished leadership coach). "It's the day-to-day, behind-the-scenes, consistent behaviors of putting the needs of your team above your own that cultivates a great team."

This wisdom lies at the core of a successful transition into management – the focus shifts from seeking individual accolades to elevating the overall performance and morale of your team. Are you ready to take the blame when your team fails, but give credit to your team when there is success?

In the upcoming sections, we'll immerse ourselves in a strategic approach symbolized by the acronym ‘GROWTH.’ This concept represents a collection of essential strategies and practical advice, carefully designed to guide you through the complexities of managing people at work. From cultivating trust to fostering effective communication, here are some tips for becoming an effective people manager.

Guiding Your Team: Understanding Your New Role

Managing people rarely comes with a handbook of expectations. As Ellen Foley, a seasoned executive coach said, "One minute you are the star performer, bursting with confidence in your role. The next, you are expected to coach, engage, have difficult conversations and motivate — often against a backdrop of constant change and pressure." Transitioning into a first time manager position requires a significant shift in responsibilities and mindset, a journey from being an individual contributor to becoming a leader.

Your role as a manager is to enable performance through others. This change means that your focus shifts from being the star player to being the coach who enables the team to win. It means stepping back from the spotlight and helping others shine, understanding that your triumphs are now reflected in the collective achievements of your team. The goals you set, the decisions you make, and the strategies you implement should all be aimed at enhancing the collective capabilities of your team.

Understanding your new role as a new manager also means recognizing the responsibility that comes with it. You are now in a position to influence your team's morale, productivity, and overall job satisfaction. Your leadership style, therefore, should be one that uplifts, inspires, and motivates your team to achieve their best.

This new perspective is beautifully encapsulated in a quote by Zig Ziglar: "You don’t have to be great to start, but you have to start to be great." It's not about being the perfect leader from day one, but about the commitment to grow into that role, for yourself and your team. 

A crucial aspect of this transformation is embracing the concept of servant leadership. Servant leadership turns the traditional power hierarchy upside down; instead of the team serving the leader, the leader serves the team. This approach shifts the focus: You don't give up power, you share it to strengthen your team. Create an environment where every team member feels important, has a voice, and is driven to contribute their best.

Research and data support the effectiveness of this leadership style. For instance, a study by the Greenleaf Center for Servant Leadership found that servant-led organizations experienced higher employee satisfaction, increased morale, and improved team performance. This style of leadership not only enhances team dynamics but also drives better results.

Relationships: Laying a Foundation of Trust

Two biracial people bumping fists

Building a foundation of trust within your team is similar to crafting a novel – it requires understanding the unique story of each character, not just their role in the plot. In today’s fast-paced, diverse workplace, becoming a great people manager often means getting to know your team beyond their job titles. It’s about diving into their aspirations, challenges, and working styles.

Research underscores the importance of this approach: a study by the Harvard Business Review found that teams with leaders focused on relationship-building show a 50% increase in productivity. The goal extends beyond merely collecting information for efficiency; it involves showing real interest and care for each team member. When they feel understood and valued, their trust in your leadership naturally grows.

Strategies for Understanding Your Team

  • One-on-One Meetings: When managing people you need more than just routine check-ins. Use them as an opportunity to delve into what drives each team member. Ask about their career goals, personal interests, and what they find challenging or rewarding in their work. This not only shows that you care about them as individuals but also gives you insight into how best to motivate and support them. It can feel counterintuitive to spend time on this, especially if you are under pressure to perform. Taking the time at this early stage to slow down, ask questions, listen intently, and guide gently will build the bonds necessary to withstand the inevitable stresses that will come your way.
  • Team-Building Activities: Well-planned team-building exercises can reveal aspects of your team’s dynamics that aren't always visible in the workplace. Whether it’s a problem-solving retreat or a creative workshop, these activities can highlight individual strengths and how team members naturally collaborate.
  • Informal Gatherings: Casual settings often encourage open, candid conversations. Lunches, coffee breaks, or after-work events can be excellent avenues for building rapport. They provide a relaxed environment for team members to share more about their lives outside of work, fostering a sense of camaraderie and mutual understanding.
  • Encouraging Peer Feedback: Create opportunities for team members to give feedback to each other. This not only helps build a culture of open communication but also provides different perspectives on how team members view each other’s strengths and areas for improvement.

As the workplace continues to change, the limitations of a one-size-fits-all approach become glaringly apparent. Team members come from diverse backgrounds, possess unique skill sets, and have individualized work styles and preferences. Managing people with different styles and approaches often requires being an empathetic leader who tries to understand the unique motivations of each team member.

This adaptability allows new managers to tailor their leadership approach to meet the evolving needs of their team and the situation at hand. For the modern workplace, the golden rule for leaders emphasizes that to lead effectively means to know your team intimately, and to comprehend their motivations and aspirations. The ability to practice situational leadership and adapt to your team’s ever-evolving needs in a given moment is critical.

Open Dialogue: Establishing Effective Communication

4 colleagues chatting happily in an office with pointing to their laptops and documents

Clear communication and effective feedback stand as the twin pillars supporting successful leadership. As a new manager, it is important for you to create an open environment for dialogue, ensuring ideas are freely exchanged, feedback is constructive, and every team member feels valued and heard, you can mitigate misunderstandings and diminish conflict.

As Steve Jobs famously said, "The most important thing in communication is hearing what isn't said." This emphasizes the need to understand not just the words, but the nuances and unspoken sentiments of your team.

Different Strategies for New Managers to Communicate Effectively

  • Regular Team Meetings: These meetings are a platform for strategic discussion and collaboration. They should be designed to encourage participation from all team members, allowing a space for them to share updates, voice concerns, and offer insights. It’s a balancing act between guiding the discussion and giving the floor to your team. Rather than viewing team meetings simply as a stage for presenting your own ideas, embrace the opportunity to cultivate your facilitation skills. As Patrick Lencioni elaborates in 'Death by Meeting', the key to invigorating meetings lies in fostering dynamic, dramatic discussions. By honing your ability to guide and stimulate engaging dialogues, you can transform meetings from one-sided speeches into collaborative platforms for creativity and problem-solving.
  • Frequent Updates: In the age of remote and hybrid work, keeping everyone in the loop is vital. Whether it’s a brief email update or a quick video call, regular communication ensures that no one feels left out of the loop. According to a study by Axios HQ, effective communication helps in creating employee alignment with organizational goals. When communication is perceived to be effective, 86% of employees feel aligned with organizational goals, compared to only 8% when it is ineffective.
Bar chart illustrating effective communication creates employee alignment with organizational goals
  • Open-Door Policy: Implementing an open-door policy goes beyond a literal interpretation. It’s an expression of your approachability and readiness to listen, encouraging team members to come forward with their ideas and concerns.

Candor and Vulnerability: Strengthening Trust

Candor in communication involves straightforward and honest dialogue. It’s about conveying the hard truths when necessary while maintaining a sense of empathy. For example, instead of saying: "You didn't have an agenda prepared and you should have," you could say: "Can I give you some feedback? (You always want to ask for permission before diving right in). During our last weekly update meeting with the client, I noticed that there wasn't an agenda provided ahead of time? This caused the attendees to feel unsure about what was going to be discussed next. Going forward, how can you make sure everyone has what they need? Please let me know if need feedback before sending it out.” This is a more involved way of delivering feedback, but it works much better.

As a new manager, displaying vulnerability by discussing your own challenges and uncertainties can make you more relatable to your team, which is essential for building a foundation of trust. It's important to communicate honestly about the obstacles you and your team may face, the reasoning behind your strategies, and your willingness to listen to feedback and new ideas. When discussing plans and strategies, create an environment where your team feels comfortable sharing their honest opinions.

Encourage open dialogue by inviting their perspectives on your ideas. For example, you can say, "Here's my thought process on this matter, and this is why I believe it's a viable approach. What do you think? Do you see it differently? Is there an angle we haven't considered? Your insights and feedback are valuable." This approach shows that you value their expertise and experience, and it promotes a collaborative atmosphere where everyone feels their contributions are meaningful and respected.

Work Together: Collaborating to Set Team Goals

Transitioning into the role of being a people manager for the first time brings about a meaningful change in the way goals are set. It goes from being a solo endeavor to becoming a collaborative journey. It's no longer about imposing objectives from above; instead, it's about tapping into the collective wisdom and dreams of your team to create goals that truly resonate with everyone. This shift is incredibly important – it not only ensures that the team is fully on board, but also aligns individual efforts with the larger vision of the organization. This way, every step forward becomes a unified stride towards shared success.

Southwest Airlines has exemplified this in their vision, and is renowned for its collaborative culture and its emphasis on employee involvement. Storytelling effectively reminds employees of the company's purpose and reinforces it in their interactions with customers. Gary Kelly publicly praises employees who provide exceptional customer service, and internal corporate videos, like the one below, show real examples and stories to help employees visualize the purpose. This approach has contributed to Southwest Airlines' remarkable success and 47-year streak of consecutive profitability.

The Art of Involving the Team in Goal-Setting

  • Facilitating Inclusive Brainstorming Sessions: Imagine these sessions as roundtable discussions, where every voice is heard, every suggestion valued. In these meetings, encourage your team to share their visions and insights. This democratic approach not only unearths a plethora of ideas but also instills a sense of ownership and commitment in each team member.
  • Harmonizing Individual and Organizational Goals: Your role as a leader involves aligning the diverse aspirations of your team members with the strategic goals of the organization. This alignment is crucial. A study by the American Psychological Association found that employees who perceive their work as meaningful show, on average, 60% lower turnover rates. This statistic underscores the importance of ensuring that personal ambitions and organizational goals are not just coexisting but are interdependent, amplifying the impact and fulfillment derived from each accomplishment.
  • Employing the SMART Goals Framework: Adopting Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound criteria transforms abstract aspirations into concrete targets. For instance, Google's use of Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) – a goal system which is in alignment with the principles of SMART – has been instrumental in its success. OKRs, much like SMART goals, focus on setting specific objectives and then tracking their outcomes through key results. This approach is cited as a core reason behind Google’s ability to scale rapidly and efficiently. When goals are specific, they provide a clear understanding of what is to be achieved. Making them measurable allows for tracking progress and maintaining motivation, while ensuring they are achievable and relevant keeps the team engaged and efficient. The time-bound element instills a sense of urgency and helps in prioritizing tasks.
  • Iterative Feedback and Reassessment: Regularly check in on progress towards the goals. Provide constructive feedback, celebrate successes, and make adjustments as needed.

Task Management: Delegating to Get More Done

A woman and man in the office looking at various sticky notes

Managing people at work brings with it a fundamental truth: some goals are simply too vast to tackle alone. Embracing delegation is not just a means to enhance efficiency; it's an acknowledgement of the power of teamwork and a testament to your trust in your team's capabilities. Delegating effectively transforms the daunting into the doable, turning ambitious goals into achievable milestones.

Effective Strategies in Delegating Tasks

  • Aligning Tasks with Team Strengths: Successful delegation requires a keen understanding of each team member's strengths and areas for growth. It's about assigning tasks that not only align with their existing skills but also challenge them to develop new ones. This approach ensures that while the team works towards common goals, each member is also growing professionally.
  • Encouraging Development Through Challenging Assignments: Giving team members tasks that are slightly outside their comfort zone can significantly aid in their development. This method aligns with Richard Branson’s philosophy: "If somebody offers you an amazing opportunity but you are not sure you can do it, say yes – then learn how to do it later!" It's about providing opportunities for team members to push their boundaries, learn, and ultimately enhance their capabilities.
  • Cultivating a Supportive and Trusting Environment: Effective delegation also hinges on the creation of a supportive environment where risks are encouraged and mistakes are seen as learning opportunities. It's a principle aligned with the insights from Google's Project Aristotle, which highlighted that the most effective teams thrive in environments where psychological safety is prevalent. Team members should feel comfortable taking risks and experimenting without fear of negative consequences for speaking up or making mistakes. This kind of supportive atmosphere encourages innovation and creative problem-solving.
  • Providing Guidance and Constructive Feedback: Delegating is not a hands-off approach. Regular feedback and mentorship are vital to guide the team members through their assigned tasks. Constructive feedback, grounded in empathy and support, aligns with the principle of psychological safety, encouraging team members to grow from their experiences and contribute more confidently to the team.

Holding Accountable: Ensuring Your Team's Responsibility

A critical part of manager training is embedding a culture of accountability in your team and nurturing an environment where each member not only understands their role but embraces it with a sense of ownership and pride. It's a process that begins with clear expectations and is sustained through thoughtful feedback and recognition.

Setting Clear Expectations and Offering Feedback

Start by painting a clear picture of what success looks like for each role within the team. This involves sitting down with team members, discussing their responsibilities, and setting tangible goals. It's a dialogue, not a monologue – encourage questions, and ensure that each member leaves the conversation with a clear understanding of what is expected of them. Encourage a two-way conversation where team members can reflect on their performance and share their perspectives.

Addressing Performance Issues with a Solution-Focused Mindset

When performance issues arise, tackle them with a focus on behaviors and outcomes. It's about understanding the ‘why’ behind the issue and working together to find a solution. This could mean additional training, adjusting workload, or setting interim milestones to help them get back on track. The goal is to turn challenges into learning opportunities.

Celebrating Successes to Build Morale

Recognizing achievements, both big and small, is vital for team morale. But how do you celebrate these wins? Start by acknowledging them in team meetings, highlighting not just what was achieved but how it contributes to the team's broader goals. Create a team tradition to celebrate milestones – maybe a monthly team lunch or a small ceremony. Think of the iconic Dundie Awards in "The Office" – a unique, light-hearted way Michael Scott used to recognize the individual quirks and achievements of his team members.

Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer, in ‘The Progress Principle,’ emphasize the profound impact of acknowledging small wins. They're not just achievements; they're the building blocks of greater success. These celebrations don't have to be grand; sometimes, a simple, heartfelt ‘thank you’ or a congratulatory email can go a long way in making team members feel valued and motivated.

Helpful Resources for Managing People at Work

A man browsing through a bookshelf at a library

Helpful books for first time managers

As you stand at the threshold of being a first time manager, embrace the excitement and challenges that come with it. This is a journey of transformation, not just in your professional title, but in your approach to leadership and team dynamics. Remember, the essence of effective management lies in building a foundation of trust, honed through your emotional intelligence. It's about navigating the delicate balance between guiding your team towards shared goals and giving them the space to grow and shine.

To support you in this journey, there are several resources and books on managing people that can be immensely helpful:

  • 3 Ways to Grow Your Influence in a New Job When you land a new managerial role or have just been promoted, it’s easy to focus on achieving a quick win at the expense of building relationships with your colleagues and direct reports. The best managers achieve both results and build strong relationships. Here’s how.
  • “Don’t Isolate Yourself” and Other Advice For First-Time Managers The switch from being an individual contributor to a team leader can be challenging. Seasoned managers share lessons about their biggest successes and failures to help those who are less experienced build confidence.
  • When You’re Younger than the People You Manage This article delves into the unique challenges faced by younger managers overseeing older team members. It offers insightful strategies for building credibility and navigating the complexities of intergenerational team dynamics. A must-read for young leaders seeking to effectively bridge age gaps and foster a culture of mutual respect and collaboration in their teams.
  • The First Time Manager - With little experience or training, a coveted promotion can become a trial by fire. This book is a guide for new managers, offering practical advice on leadership, communication, and decision-making. It helps first-time managers navigate the complexities of managing people and setting goals. The book provides strategies for effective team leadership and dealing with workplace challenges, making it a crucial resource for anyone new to a managerial role.
  • Why Good Leaders Make You Feel Safe - The talk offers valuable insights for new managers on creating a trust-based work environment. Sinek emphasizes the importance of building a culture of safety and belonging within teams. His talk can guide new managers in fostering loyalty, encouraging innovation, and enhancing team performance by making employees feel secure and valued. This understanding can be crucial for new managers aiming to develop effective leadership styles that promote a positive and productive workplace.
  • The Effective Manager - The book lays out a straightforward and actionable framework for new managers, covering essential management skills, including effective communication and delegation techniques.
  • Manager Tools - The podcast offers a comprehensive suite of episodes covering a wide range of management topics. Each episode provides clear, actionable advice, making it a valuable resource for new managers seeking guidance and strategies to enhance their leadership skills.
  • The One Minute Manager - Ken Blanchard's 'The One Minute Manager' presents a concise and impactful approach to management. It introduces simple yet powerful techniques for goal setting, praising, and reprimanding, making it an essential read for new managers looking to quickly grasp fundamental leadership principles.

Utilizing Objective Tools for Faster, Deeper Insight

While it's challenging to quickly build deep trust in a team as a first time manager, tools like Happy’s People Engagement Platform can be exceptionally valuable. Happy helps give new managers and leaders tools to under their team by offering insights into each person's workstyle and preferences.

This understanding provides a window into how best to collaborate and communicate effectively. Additionally, Happy’s Coach (which is powered by AI and insights from real leadership coaches) features helpful nudges, aiding in the seamless integration of these insights into daily interactions and decision-making, thus fostering a more cohesive and understanding team environment.

The Happy platform can be a significant asset for a first time manager. Happy helps you understand your team’s workstyles, preferences, and the best ways to offer feedback. It’s designed to enhance collaboration, mitigate conflict, and build trust within your team. By leveraging the insights from Happy, you can tailor your management plan to suit individual team members, leading to a more cohesive, motivated, and productive team.

With each step, you're not only building a stronger team but also shaping your unique leadership style, one that’s adaptable, empathetic, and grounded in the principles of trust and mutual respect. As you explore more tips for managing people, you'll continue to expand your ability and develop an approach to people management that is uniquely yours. Welcome to the enriching world of management, where every challenge is an opportunity for growth and every success a milestone in your leadership journey.

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