A first-time managers guide to getting out of the gates without tripping

Congrats you rock!  You’ve done an awesome job at being an individual contributor (IC).  Along the way you have kicked butt and taken names, you should be so proud of yourself.

The grand prize, for whatever the reasons may be (promotion, business growth, organization changes), is you now have the fresh new responsibility of managing people.  Oh, and by the way that’s on top of keeping the same duties you previously had.  Lucky you!

Welcome to managing people, this is probably going to hurt a little.

Getting into a team-first mentality

Overall the next level of success means you are accomplishing more as a team, making the whole greater than the sum of the parts.  To do this, your only real job as a manager is to make sure everyone on your team is on the same page (rowing in the same direction) and has what they need to move forward (remove blockers).

The best part is you now have minions to do your bidding and can accomplish so much more as a team.

The worst part is making the transition.  You may have heard this quote “what got you here  won’t get you there.” Meaning, that you need to adapt and become a new version of your self, who can no longer just push through getting stuff done by sheer force and will.  You’re going to need to go through some changes.

The first step is getting you to change your priorities.

How your priorities have changed

Part of this transition is to understand the change in priorities.  I’m sure it sounds simple at first, but don’t forget that your existing ways of prioritizing is something that you have done for years.  It’s so ingrained in your routines that these patterns are very difficult to break.  These are your new priorities in order:

  1. Your people are first
  2. Process and systems
  3. You as a contributor

Priority #1: Your people are first

Whether you like it or not, your team will be looking for you for guidance.  The first question you should ask yourself every day is, “does my team have what they need to make progress today?”

  • You need to always be looking 1,2,3 or even 5 steps ahead of your team. Take the time to be prepared to be ready for what happens next.  Try to look around that next corner. This means being prepared for every meeting before the meeting.  Be able to answer at least the questions of “what should I be doing now?” and “what comes after this?”
  • The goal is that your team members surpass you as an individual contributor, teach them to fish. Make them the rock star and don’t let your ego get in the way.  Think of how much relief they can give you by just being more awesome.
  • Your job is also to get them the resources they need and remove blockers.  Provide support in the form of constructive feedback and be willing to show them what you mean by example.  Don’t do things for them.
  • Clearly defining your expectations of your team members.
  • Then get the F out of the way.  😉

Putting your people first is one of the hardest parts of this transition.  You’re going to have to learn to manage your time in a new way.  Yes, I’m sure you were good at time-management as an IC, but now it’s time using those skills with the focus on the team first.

Priority #2: Process and systems

The best way for you to manage people are putting systems and processes in place. These are meant to help you and your team get consistent results.  Making sure your “operating system” is working keeps all trains on schedule.  Get into a system thinking mindset!

  • Recurring meetings will save you and set up a cadence. These checkpoints can be a standup meeting, phone call, or whatever format you prefer.
  • Make sure the systems and processes are accurate and sustainable… this is what keeps everything sane and manageable. None of these is set in stone. The operations will continue to adjust over time.
  • All sound systems and all processes involved feedback and reporting.  Reporting helps you look at the data.  Are their tasks that get lost or stuck?  Are things taking longer than expected?  Where are their cases that something bucked the process?  Is it time to make a change?  Feedback from the data and also from the team is necessary.  A monthly retro with the group is a good idea. Buy-in and feedback loops are essential.

Depending on the maturity of your company and team, you may be responsible for developing these processes and putting these systems into place.

If you are inheriting systems and processes, take a slower approach to make changes.  Take stock of what’s there and ease into it.  Current systems and processes are already ingrained, making abrupt changes early on can give you a bigger mess to clean up on the onset.

Priority #3: You as a contributor (yes last)

In the early days, you may be able to do a few things for yourself as an IC, but it’s typically later in a day or later in the week, once the team is moving. Sorry, but get used to it.

Once you have things running smoother on a day to day, week to week basis, you’ll be able to create more time to make progress as an IC.

Can we say it together one more time?  “My people are first.”

Starting the transition

Now that you have your new set of priorities, you know exactly what to do, right?  😉 It may seem a bit overwhelming thinking about how you’re going to handle all of this new responsibility.  That’s OK!

Making this transition is not easy, as it does take time to adjust.  No one expects you to flip to being a manager overnight, but you will get there and get back to feeling comfortable in your role.  In hindsight, what I found the most helpful in making this transition were these two things:

Split yourself in two

The next step is a clear understanding that you need to be 2 different people or at least two versions of yourself.

The “manager you” is working on the machine.  Making sure all the gears are working.  All the parts are in place.  Making sure nothing is getting dropped on the floor.

“Manager you” is first and has everything to do with your people and the systems/processes that make that all work.  This means taking “management time”.  (no IC work)

I try to take significant management time at the beginning of each week to set my and my team’s week.  Then address it daily before I get started on my day.

The “individual contributor you” can then work in the machine.  You can then be a gear that is working in tandem with everything and everyone else.

Recalibrate your sense of contribution

Last but not least, that feeling at the end of the day of fulfillment and completion may have to be adjusted.  Many people struggle with the leap to manager where they continue to align their own self worth with what they got done as an individual contributor.  Try to recalibrate yourself and look at what the team gets done as it relates to you.

Take pride in knowing that they are operating more efficiently with you at the helm and have nothing standing in their way.  You are making this happen.

Wrapping up with “repeating”

As you are probably tired of me saying the same things many different times, the last gem I want to pass down is that great managers repeat themselves.  You’re burning it into the memories of your team and yourself until it’s unconscious behavior.

So one more time before you totally check out:

  1. Your people are first
  2. Process and systems
  3. You as a contributor


  1. Split yourself in two
  2. Recalibrate your sense of contribution


repeat yourself over and over and over and over again