6 Common Challenges Every First-Time Manager Faces [And How to Tackle Them]

by Lokajit Tikayatray

12 min read·

You're a first-time manager, congratulations!

You've achieved an impressive milestone in your career. Making the leap from individual contributor to a leadership role is an exciting accomplishment. But with this new role also comes a unique set of challenges that you may not have faced before.

Navigating the corporate world can be daunting for a novice manager. It's challenging to get started and get first-time manager training in order to excel in a leadership position if you don't have prior expertise. No surprise that many new managers face common challenges as they adjust to their new roles.

This article will explore some of the most common challenges first-time managers face. Read on to learn how to tackle the challenges as a new manager and transform into a successful leader.

Displaying Authority as a First-Time Leader

One of the most common challenges encountered by first-time managers is displaying authority. When you're new to a leadership role, it can be difficult to command respect from your team. After all, both you and your team are still getting used to the idea of you being in charge.

Many individual contributors get promoted within the team and become managers for the first time. It can make the transition to a leadership role pretty challenging. Often new leaders are not used to giving directives or telling their peers what to do. Many team members might not even be mentally prepared to accept them as leaders.

Displaying authority gets even more challenging if you have senior members in the team with similar experiences as yours but now have to report to you as manager.

What can you do?

It's important to remember that your company counts on you to lead the team in the right direction. Follow these first-time manager tips if you find it challenging to display authority.

  • Recognize the new dynamics: Recognize that the relationship between you and your team has altered. Make it clear how you want your employees to work with you so that they are aware of the new relationship dynamics.
  • Set expectations: Establish clear expectations for each team member straight away and ensure that everyone is on the same page. Discuss with the team what they expect from you as a leader and vice-versa.
  • Set the tone: Set the tone for your team by being positive and confident. Be assertive in your decision-making, but always be willing to listen to others.
  • Take baby steps: Avoid bringing radical changes during the initial months. Allow your team time to get used to your management style.

Building Trust & Motivating Team Members

As a first-time manager, building trust with your team is crucial. It's important for employees to feel that they can trust you as their leader. This confidence in you will help them be more open and forthcoming, which is necessary for building a solid working relationship. For example, one of the most crucial moments is dealing with deadlines in the software development team. Learn how to use them to boost the happiness and creativity of your team.

When you have no prior experience being a manager, it is understandable for your stakeholders to have doubts about your leadership abilities. They have no way to believe that you can meet their expectations and deliver. You might not yet have enough credentials to command the respect that a leader deserves.

When trust is absent, team members may feel that they need to protect themselves. Simultaneously, stakeholders will not be readily forthcoming to collaborate.

What can you do?

Building trust as a leader is a gradual process that takes time and effort. The tips below can help you build trust with your team and stakeholders.

  • Maintain transparency: Be transparent and honest with your team while sharing your ideas, plans, and goals. Create a safe environment for the team to discuss the details and share their opinion.
  • Pay attention to communication: Be clear and concise when communicating. Refrain from giving ambiguous statements. Employees cannot trust a leader when they are confused about their intention. Explore ways to improve developer productivity and increase their confidence in you.
  • Listen, listen, & listen: Be approachable and have the patience to listen. Don't jump to conclusions without considering all aspects of the topic. Your team will trust you only if they can share their problems without the fear of being judged.
  • Give credit where it's due: Share the limelight with your team. Acknowledge the contribution and thank the team members for their hard work. It will make them feel appreciated and motivate them to continue working hard.
  • Keep your commitment: Make sure that you live up to your promises. Always follow through on your commitment. In the eagerness to prove themselves, often new managers over-commit. Hence, promptly update your stakeholders if you face issues keeping the promise.

Learning to Lead a Diverse Team

Nowadays, most managers have to lead a team composed of people with different backgrounds, skills, and experience levels. It can be a challenging task as you need to cater to the team's diverse needs. Due to your inexperience, you might not be sure how to handle individual priorities and interests.

However, a leader must accommodate varying aspirations to make the employees work as a cohesive unit.

When leading a diverse team, it is essential to be aware of your own biases. Your unconscious bias can interfere with your judgment and decision-making. It can divert your focus and energy from your primary goal as a leader, i.e., inspiring the team to align with your vision and deliver accordingly.

Hence, it would help if you made an effort to get rid of your unconscious bias and understand the unique perspectives of each member.

What can you do?

Diversity should be embraced and not viewed as a challenge. Following tips can help you manage a diverse team effectively.

  • Acknowledge the diversity: Encourage open communication within the team. Build a safe environment for your employees to share their views and opinions. Treat each employee fairly and equally without showing favoritism.
  • Understand the team: Get to know your team members as individuals. Find out their strengths, weaknesses, and preferences. It will help you assign tasks accordingly and utilize their skills to the fullest.
  • Be flexible in your management style: Adopt a suitable technique instead of forcing the team to follow your methods.
  • Encourage creativity: Encourage your team to think out of the box. A diverse team can bring various perspectives, leading to innovative ideas. You can discuss their ideas on one on one engineer meetings.
  • Respect individual differences: Respect each team member's culture, religion, and beliefs. It will help create a harmonious work environment.

Learning to Navigate the Leadership Corridor

As an individual contributor, you don't have to deal with higher management and associated politics. Your boss takes care of the mess. However, now as a leader, you must learn how to manage and abstract the complications for your employees.

Managing higher management is one of the crucial tasks of every manager. Your team's visibility and future depend on how well you can manage the hierarchy above you. You need to be prepared to walk the thin line between being assertive and overbearing and too passive or indecisive. It can be initially challenging to find the right balance, but you can develop your leadership style with perseverance.

Managers who have prior experience will always have the edge over you in demanding things from higher management. Due to your inexperience, you might struggle to influence their decision. However, this is temporary. Once you establish your personal brand as a manager, you will have your say in the leadership corridor.

What can you do?

Here are some tips that can help you navigate the leadership corridor effectively.

  • Understand the power hierarchy: As a new manager, you should watch and learn your company's culture. Find out who has the most influence over your team's decisions. Try to figure out how they think so that you can align with their thought process.
  • Be in sync with your leader: Always align with your immediate manager and put a combined front to the rest of the leadership. You can learn a lot from your manager's experience and gain their support.
  • Stay neutral: Don't take sides in politics as powers in the leadership circle change frequently. Better to provide your views and let your leaders decide the outcome.
  • Build your network: Get to know people in other departments and build a strong network. It will help you connect with leaders, establish rapport with them and use their support during decision-making.

Developing Leadership Skills Without Sacrificing Personal Effectiveness

When you become a leader, your responsibilities increase manifold. As a manager, you need to understand your duties, manage your stakeholders, align with your leaders, lead your team, be responsible for their delivery, and work on your career growth.

With the sudden changes in the role, it can be challenging to find the right balance between work and life.

As a leader, you need to be always available for your team, but that doesn't mean you have to sacrifice your personal life and aspirations. You need to learn how to manage time and energy while giving your best at work without compromising your career goals.

Managing competing demands during the initial months can be pretty stressful. You will be constantly pushed out of your comfort zone, which can be overwhelming at first. You may feel that you have no time to fulfill each of your obligations adequately. Even though you put in a lot of effort, you might find yourself wanting at the end of the day.

What can you do?

The following tips can help you develop leadership skills without sacrificing personal effectiveness.

  • Define your priorities: When you have competing demands, it is essential to figure out what is most important. Make a list of all the work you need to do, and prioritize them according to their urgency and importance.
  • Delegate work: As a manager, you need to learn effective delegation techniques. You can't do everything on your own. You must trust your team to get the job done.
  • Take breaks: When you are constantly juggling different responsibilities, it is essential to take a break and recharge yourself. Otherwise, you will quickly burn out.
  • Make time for yourself: Evaluate yourself once a week. If you need assistance, be willing to accept it. Receive suggestions with an open mind and reflect on them to improve your working style and become more effective.

Setting Expectations & Handling Difficult Conversations

A common challenge for a first-time manager is to set expectations with their team and have difficult conversations when needed. It might be tough to strike the correct balance between being too lenient and overly harsh. If you are too lenient, your team might take advantage of you and not take their work seriously. However, if you are too strict, your team might feel suffocated and resentful.

Due to their inexperience in leading a team, most first-time managers don't feel confident setting expectations for their employees. They don't feel competent enough to tell people what to do. As a result, they either avoid setting any expectations or set unrealistic ones.

It is usual for people to avoid confrontations. Especially when you are not comfortable showing authority yet, it can become even more challenging to have difficult conversations. However, as a leader, you cannot avoid tough discussions. You might feel being nice to everyone can help you build a rapport, but it often works the opposite. People perceive you prefer conflict avoidance and will start taking advantage of it.

What can you do?

First-time managers need to remember that their superiors believe in their ability to lead and thus choose them for the job. Here are some tips to help you set expectations with your team and handle difficult conversations.

  • Be clear about your expectations: It is essential to set the right expectations with your team. When you share your expectations, make sure there is no ambiguity about what you expect from each individual.
  • Be consistent with your team: Be consistent in communicating and treating your team. If you are erratic, it will create confusion and mistrust.
  • Learn to give constructive feedback: Feedback is crucial for a leader's job. It is essential to learn how to provide feedback in a helpful way without hurting the recipient. Avoid attacking the person during difficult conversations and try to find a beneficial solution for both parties.
  • Be open to feedback: It is also vital to be open to feedback from your team. It can help you understand your employees' perspectives and improve how you manage them. Simultaneously, appreciating your team's efforts can go a long way in building a rapport with them.
  • Learn to say no: Saying no is not easy, especially for a first-time manager. However, you need to learn to say no when needed. Otherwise, you will quickly become overwhelmed and won't be able to focus on your priorities.

Final Thoughts

As a first-time manager, you must recognize that you need to deliver results while also growing as a leader to be successful. It takes tremendous effort and patience for people to accept you as their leader and follow your direction to achieve the vision.

While being a first-time manager comes with its challenges, it is also a gratifying experience. It is an opportunity to learn and grow as a leader. You can undoubtedly overcome all obstacles and become an effective leader if you believe in yourself, have the passion, and invest the required time to learn on the job.

Thanks for reading this article about first-time manager advice.

FAQs

Q: What should a first time manager not do?
First-time managers should avoid setting unrealistic expectations, being inconsistent, and avoiding difficult conversations. They should also not force their vision on the team before gaining their trust. Simultaneously, first-time managers should not try to control the team and how they work before understanding the team and their working style.
Q: Can you be a manager with no experience?
Yes, you can be a manager with no experience. It is essential to note that being a successful manager requires perseverance, hard work, and dedication. If you do not have experience, spend time learning the necessary skills and build a foundation of knowledge to draw upon when challenges inevitably arise.
Q: How do you lead a team as a first time manager?
There is no one-size-fits-all answer to this question. However, some tips for leading a team as a first-time manager include being clear and consistent with your expectations, providing constructive feedback, and being open to feedback from your team. It is also vital to prioritize your work and delegate as necessary.
Q: What should a manager do in the first 30 days?
In the first 30 days, a manager should focus on understanding the team dynamics, setting clear expectations, building relationships with their team, and understanding the team deliverables. Additionally, it is essential to know your team's strengths and weaknesses to do effective work assignments.
Lokajit Tikayatray
Lokajit Tikayatray
Senior Solution Architect

Lokajit Tikayatray works as a Solution Architect with a demonstrated history of working in the information technology and software industry. His mission is to inspire software engineers and leaders through his writing using 16 years of industry experience.​

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