From peer to leader: A first-time manager’s journey

Written by Emily Goldsack, R&D Consultant

To be successful, every organisation needs to ensure that leaders are prepared to manage the unique and evolving challenges of today’s uncertain and complex environment. This responsibility starts with supporting first-time managers and securing a strong foundation for the leadership pipeline.

In our last blog, we introduced the importance of the leadership journey and the three levels of leadership that are typically seen across most organisations: first-level, mid-level, and senior. In this blog, we will focus specifically on first-time managers and how to ensure a successful transition to becoming a manager for the first time.

The impact and importance of first-time managers

A first-time manager typically manages a team within a specific business function or department. They are responsible for overseeing day-to-day operations and the tactical delivery of team and business objectives. This level is unique and deserves particular attention as it marks an individual’s first experience of managing people and the first step in their leadership journey.

Despite this, their impact is just as important as that of mid-level or senior leaders. We recently conducted an international research study examining the three different leadership levels. We found that, like higher leadership levels, first-time managers have a direct impact on employees’ performance, engagement, and well-being.

This highlights the importance of ensuring that talent management and leadership development is not only focused at the top. First-time managers also need to be prioritised when it comes to leadership development, particularly as they make the pivotal transition from peer to leader.

The challenges of becoming a manager for the first time

Transitioning to manager can be daunting, and our research indicated that it is associated with a number of specific challenges including:

  • Managing people for the first time

    Individuals must learn to manage their own performance while also taking responsibility for driving the performance and overall success of the team. It can be a challenge when becoming a manager to learn the skills necessary to simultaneously build authentic connections, delegate effectively, and support the development of others.

  • Managing former peers

    Individuals must navigate changing relationship dynamics as they often transition to a position where they are managing former peers. They may encounter difficulties in being heard, gaining respect for their decisions, and holding people accountable, all while maintaining positive relationships with former colleagues and friends.

Overall, first-time managers must adapt to the increased pressure and workload associated with transitioning from a leader of oneself to a leader of others. Fortunately, there are several strategies that first-time leaders can focus on to prepare for these challenges.

Ensuring success: Behavioural strategies for first-time managers

To help ensure a successful transition, first-time managers can focus on the following behaviours:

1. Improve communication skills

Individuals should hone their communication skills, ensuring they communicate clearly and frequently with their team, and adapt their approach to meet the needs of different team members. Effective communication in the workplace is the cornerstone of successful leadership; it is essential for setting expectations, delegating, building relationships, and managing people’s performance when becoming a manager for the first time.

2. Delegate effectively

Individuals should learn to delegate appropriately by truly understanding their team members’ strengths, weaknesses, and motivations. They need to trust the team and not micromanage, instead providing the tools and resources for team members to learn and grow within their roles. Mastering delegation helps first-time managers enhance productivity and manage their workload more effectively.

3. Build relationships

Individuals should invest in building genuine relationships with team members. Showing care and empathy and taking an interest in employees’ personal and professional lives is essential for doing this successfully. This ensures that employees feel trusted, appreciated, and heard, which fosters openness, collaboration, and engagement among team members.

It is worth noting that all of these strategies focus on human-centred behaviours that help first-time managers be effective. Research has shown that now, more than ever, leaders need to adopt a human focus. It is through people that leaders influence behaviour change and drive outcomes.

Human-centred leadership requires authenticity and aligns with the core elements of emotional intelligence. A great place to start for leaders is to develop their own emotional intelligence which enables them to become both personally and interpersonally effective.

Setting a strong leadership foundation as a first-time manager

Becoming a manager requires individuals to be prepared for the challenges they will inevitably face as they step into a new role where they are responsible not only for themselves, but for others. First-time managers should focus on developing the behaviours that help cultivate a trusting and supportive environment, empowering team members to perform at their best.

This is important for the employee experience and lays the groundwork for the leader’s own development which supports future progression into higher levels of leadership. Additionally, it sets the organisation up for success by establishing a strong foundation for the leadership pipeline.

The leadership journey: Insights into effective leadership progression

Only 38% of leaders feel extremely or very prepared to move to the next level of leadership.

This executive summary uncovers the challenges and necessary changes for leaders to effectively progress, leveraging our extensive experience in leadership development.

It integrates perspectives from employees, leaders, and organisations to highlight critical mindsets and behaviours for transitioning to higher leadership roles.

We provide a snapshot of:

  • Leadership impact and effectiveness at each level
  • Key leadership traits by level
  • Leader transition challenges and readiness
  • Strategies for leader transition success and effectiveness
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Talogy effective leadership progression