Reasons Why First-Time Managers Fail and Tips to Avoid Pitfalls
Leading and managing involve different sets of skills. Some may be good at managing but fall short when it comes to leading, and vice versa.
Whether it is inexperience or lack of familiarity with the job, a new manager may lack the knowledge and skills required to steer the ship.
Here are many tips and advice for rookie managers to successfully launch a new position and avoid pitfalls.
1. First-Time Managers: Establish Boundaries and Expectations
Tom Monson, Owner, Monson Lawn & Landscaping
The first time one is put in a position of leadership, it can be incredibly intimidating. Suddenly, you’re responsible for those under you, while still being accountable to those above you.
Instead of just getting your job done and clocking out, you’re now trying to maximize the people below you, making sure their jobs get done in a timely manner and to a respectable degree, and dealing with the egos and personalities of those you’re managing.
The most important first step when assuming a managerial position is to establish boundaries and expectations with your employees. Let them know that you are their manager and they report to you. Then make it clear what your expectations are for their work and their effort levels.
Take time to converse with each of your employees to establish a rapport so they feel comfortable talking honestly with you.
Lastly, remember where you came from! Remember how you felt the last time you worked under a manager and the things they did that you liked and disliked.
2. New Managers: Don’t Get Bogged Down in Analysis Paralysis
Will Yang, Head of Growth, Instrumentl
One of the main reasons why first-time managers fail is because they try to exert their authority at every opportunity. This can alienate employees and make them feel like they are not valued or respected. Instead of being too autocratic, it is important to listen to employees and work collaboratively.
Another reason why first-time managers often fail is that they become bogged down in analysis paralysis. They spend too much time second-guessing themselves and their decisions, and as a result, they never get anything done.
In order to avoid this pitfall, first-time managers need to learn to trust their instincts and make quick decisions. Of course, this doesn’t mean that they should never stop to think things through – but when it comes time to take action, they need to be able to do so without hesitation.
Additionally, first-time managers need to learn to delegate authority and build a strong team of trusted advisors. By doing these things, they can avoid the common pitfalls that lead to failure.
Lastly, first-time managers often lack the necessary experience to effectively lead a team. They may be unsure of how to delegate tasks, communicate expectations, or provide feedback. As a result, they may find themselves feeling overwhelmed and uncertain of how to proceed.
Fortunately, there are a number of resources available to help first-time managers become more effective leaders. Management training programs can teach essential skills such as delegation, communication, and conflict resolution.
In addition, many organizations offer mentorship programs pairing experienced managers with new leaders.
Through these programs, first-time managers can learn from those who have gone before them, gaining the knowledge and confidence they need to be successful in their new roles.
3. New Manager Training Should Offer Real-Life Scenarios
Katie Ostreko, VP Sales & Marketing, Quality Edge
A company wouldn’t run a piece of new equipment without proper training. They wouldn’t put someone in charge or quality without first teaching them how to do the job and expectations.
Companies are putting their greatest asset at risk – their people – and often don’t realize it.
50% of people quit their manager not the company – it’s the #1 reason listed when people quit.
87% of new managers wished they had more training – 91% of managers receive little to no training.
New managers need five things to do their job well:
- Clear, effective, adaptive communication.
- Providing feedback – positive & negative.
- Prioritizing team workload to minimize burnout.
- Managing interpersonal dynamics.
- Coaching and developing the team.
Most training is fluffy or done one time and to really become comfortable, it needs to be consistent, constant and real.
The two largest gaps are communication and feedback.
Too many managers are not able to adapt their communication to connect with different people on their team. And too often new managers believe their style is the way everyone should do things, which usually backfires.
The second is feedback. The comfort of texting or email reduces the practice of talking to people face to face, whether the news is good or bad. Most new managers don’t know how to have the tough conversations that can be productive if done well and if avoided can cause so much damage downstream.
If new manager training offered real-life scenarios, coaching and practice during their first 12 – 18 months and feedback from their team and leadership, new managers would have a much better chance of success than throwing them in and hoping they were born a leader.
4. Rookie Managers Should Avoid the Micromanaging Mistake
Craig Anderson, Founder, Express Dentist
First-time managers’ biggest mistake is not setting clear expectations for their teams. Dedication and motivation will dwindle without a clear vision or goal to work towards, and the team will likely become less productive overall.
To avoid this, sit down with your team and lay out your expectations regarding their roles and the team’s goals. Doing so will make work more purposeful for everyone and prevent any confusion or frustration down the road.
Another mistake these managers often make is micromanaging their team. Yes, it’s crucial to stay on top of things.
But constantly hovering over your team and second-guessing their every move will lead to frustration for both parties.
Instead, trust them to do their jobs and step in only when necessary. This will give your members the freedom to be creative and come up with their own solutions while providing them with the oversight they need.
Finally, some first-time managers are too focused on performing all the tasks themselves or taking all the credit when things go right.
While it’s important to be involved, delegating and giving credit where it’s due will allow you to create a positive and productive work culture. Otherwise, you won’t be able to fulfill your role as a leader, and your team will quickly become resentful.
5. When First-Time Managers Are Misaligned with Their Teams
Debbie Vasen, Chief Content Officer (CCO), LoveToKnow Media
One common way first-time managers fail is because they come in with an agenda. They have a perception of what it means to manage others.
Through this need for an independent plan, they look at themselves as a separate function from the team. In this situation, they often fail because they end up misaligned with the people they manage.
Their direct reports perceive them as out of touch and thus their direction isn’t well received.
This disconnection can cause the manager’s employees to not share ideas or even implement the manager’s agenda.
The best solution to either prevent (or fix) this problem is for the manager to recognize themselves as one of the roles on the team.
When first starting in their role, they should step back, listen and observe without initial judgment.
Take the time to outline the team, what they are doing and how it is working first. Once the manager understands it, they can start to evaluate it.
Through this process, the manager can then start to see where they fit. Then, instead of dictating, they should see their role as orchestrating and leading by example. This allows them to deeply understand the team, how they work and where to address weaknesses and push towards the strengths.
The manager can then guide the team together as a group to meet their goals. The manager will be more in touch with the struggles and triumphs so they can ensure unity. This group mindset allows the manager’s team to be more efficient, innovative, and productive as all the different members are connected.
6. The Distinction Between Managing and Leading People
Melissa Terry, CFA, VEM Tooling
It’s a widespread misconception in hiring that if someone is excellent at their profession, they’ll also be great at managing people who are doing the same work. But that’s simply not the case.
Unlike a great salesperson, a successful sales manager requires an entirely distinct set of skills. This must be prevented by training new managers in daily managerial work, including time tracking, expense management, and project management.
To achieve desired results, they must learn how to successfully delegate, set and hold others accountable for defined goals, and communicate with a purpose.
They are unaware of the distinctions between managing and leading people. They undoubtedly complement one another, but if your new managers are to succeed, they must understand the differences between leadership and management.
In order to avoid this pitfall, you must teach your new managers how to coach and push others to achieve at their maximum levels, prevent possible disputes, and do whatever is necessary to keep their departments and the company as a whole going forward if you want them actually to lead.
They don’t manage change well. Things may and always do change. Every firm knows this, but change programs frequently fail and hurt organizations.
To avoid this pitfall, you must specify how the change will affect the managers’ employees, the business, and themselves as individuals if you want to be sure that your new managers can handle change well.
7. First-Time Managers Have to Earn the Team’s Trust
Jenny Ly, Founder, Go Wanderly
As soon as you accept this new role, your superiors and your reports will be judging how you lead, and once opinions are formed, they will be hard to shake off.
Some managers are under the impression that their authority is sufficient to influence people when they utilize their boss’s position to get their way. But to be a successful leader, you must have the support of those above and below you.
The largest error new managers make is not giving their team members enough time to get to know them and gain their trust.
Establishing rapport, paying attention, and demonstrating real concern are the cornerstones of a relationship based on trust. Find out what matters to your coworkers by probing them frequently to interpret your requests into terms they can understand if you want to increase your influence at work.
Your staff will get the message that the predictable routines they organize their days around are gone when you march in on your first day and declare that you are going to restructure systems and destroy the outdated method of doing things and that’s unsettling.
Change should be implemented gradually: For the first 30 days, you only ask questions in “sponge mode.” You should start to be cautious about the modifications you wish to implement during the second 30 days. You should enact or introduce some modifications over the final 30 days.
8. Poor Communication Lead to Misunderstandings, Confusion and Frustration
Randy VanderVaate, CEO & Founder, Funeral Funds of America
There are several reasons why first-time managers fail. One of the most common reasons is that they try to do too much themselves and don’t delegate effectively. As a result, they become overwhelmed and bogged down in details instead of being able to focus on the big picture.
Other common mistakes include micromanaging.
Micromanaging is when a manager tries to control every aspect of their team’s work instead of trusting them to do their jobs.
This can lead to resentment and feeling stifled, demotivating employees and making them less productive.
Another mistake is not communicating effectively. This can manifest itself in several ways, such as not giving clear instructions, not setting expectations, or not providing feedback. Poor communication can lead to misunderstandings and confusion, impacting productivity and morale.
Another common mistake is not communicating clear expectations to their team. This can lead to confusion and frustration on both sides.
First-time managers also often struggle with conflict resolution because they haven’t had practice dealing with difficult conversations with employees.
Lastly, many first-time managers fail to take breaks – both for themselves and for their team. They believe that if they’re not working all the time, they’re not being productive. However, this isn’t sustainable in the long run and can lead to burnout.
All of these mistakes can be avoided with proper training and guidance. First-time managers must understand their roles and how to delegate effectively. They also need to learn how to communicate clearly and set expectations with their team.
Finally, they need to know how to handle conflict constructively. With the right tools and guidance, first-time managers can set themselves – and their team – up for success.
9. Establishing Respect is Crucial for New Managers
Ben Lamarche, General Manager, Lock Search Group
From experience, a big reason why first-time managers fail is not knowing how to manage people without being personal. This often happens when one is newly promoted and lacks the experience necessary for managing people with all their idiosyncrasies.
One of the most difficult aspects of your job as a people manager is not taking things personally.
You want to be empathetic and human when dealing with your reports, but you must quickly learn how to manage objectively without letting emotions tarnish your decisions – this is the first step to establishing respect.
Secondly, tempting as it might be to manage the team as a group, you will be more effective at your job if you take the time to understand each team member individually. This will take some time, but every report is different, with its own strengths, weaknesses, needs, and goals.
A good people manager ensures that employees are getting their work done and that their experience at the workplace is wholesome, progressive, and impactful.
10. Rookie Managers: Ask for Help and Guidance
Daniel Cook, Head of Business Development, Mullen and Mullen
One of the biggest mistakes that first-time managers often make is not asking for help.
Unfortunately, many people think someone is promoted to manager because they already know the ropes. That is rarely, if ever, the case.
A more likely scenario would be that you’re promoted to manager because the company needs a new one and because you’re the one who has the most potential at that time. Not asking for help doesn’t help you, your reports, and the company you’re working for.
If you’re managing people for the first time, never hesitate to ask for guidance from your higher-ups. The last thing you want to do is overwhelm yourself with the stresses of managing right from the start.
Unfortunately, many employers see this stage as a sort of initiation rite that supposedly tempers the new manager to becoming a battle-scarred leader. Don’t give in to this pressure. If you do, you will likely become stressed and burnt-out with their new responsibility very quickly.
If possible, ask for some sort of on-the-job leadership training months before the formal promotion.
This training is where you are given piecemeal management and leadership responsibilities together with the outgoing manager.
This will allow you to get a taste of what the job looks like without having the sole burden of responsibility for the outcomes.
By the time you take over the reins, you would have had enough experience on the technical aspects of managing and you can focus instead on being an effective leader to your reports.
11. Create A Clear Plan and Strategy for the Team
Meyr Aviv, Founder & CEO, iMoving
First-time managers often fail because they don’t have the experience or skills to handle the new role. They may not know how to delegate tasks, handle difficult conversations, or give and receive feedback.
Additionally, first-time managers may not have a clear understanding of their company’s goals and objectives, which can make it difficult to create a strategy and make effective decisions.
Another reason could be because they let pressure and stress from the job consume them, instead of using it as motivation to succeed. This can lead to bad decision-making and a lack of focus on what’s important.
To avoid these common mistakes, first-time managers should take the time to learn about their new role and responsibilities. They should also seek mentors and colleagues who can offer guidance and support.
They can ask questions, get feedback, and observe how other managers operate. Doing this can make the job seem less daunting, and help them develop the skills and knowledge they need to succeed in their new role.
Additionally, first-time managers should create a clear plan and strategy for their team, and be sure to communicate it effectively.
They should also focus on building strong relationships with their team members, and creating a positive work environment. This way, their team will be more likely to trust and respect them, which can make it easier to communicate and collaborate. When everyone is on the same page, they’ll more likely be able to achieve their goals.
Finally, first-time managers should make sure to stay focused and organized, and to take care of their well-being. While the pressure and stress of the job can be overwhelming, it’s important to remember that managing a team can also be a rewarding and fulfilling experience.
They shouldn’t let the challenges get the best of them, and should instead use them as motivation to become the best manager they can be. With the right approach, first-time managers can set themselves up for success.
12. Individual Performance Doesn’t Automatically Qualify You as a Leader
Natalie Fell, HR & Operations Expert, Step By Step Business
It’s extremely common for high-performing team members to be promoted to managers, however, management requires a very different skill set.
Organizations often leave these newly promoted managers scrambling to adjust to their new roles, which can set them up for failure right from the start.
Just because someone does excellent work as an individual contributor does not mean they’ll automatically know how to manage others.
Organizations should take an honest assessment of a person’s leadership skills before making the decision to promote someone to a manager. They should also look for demonstrated leadership in action through a person’s past projects.
For example, does this person have a track record of leading groups of people through a project? What was the project’s outcome? Do their current team members trust this individual and thrive around them?
Companies should also have candid conversations with potential managers and find out what their long-term career goals are.
Sometimes people have no interest in managing others but will accept a promotion because it comes with a higher salary and better title. Doing a thorough assessment before making the official promotion decision goes a long way.
Organizations with newly promoted managers should support them as much as possible, especially in those early days. Present them with leadership training opportunities and consider assigning a mentor to them.
Always keep in mind that the transition from individual contributor to manager is a big deal for most people and that sometimes employees might be embarrassed to admit they need help. Take a proactive approach and let your new managers know that they’re supported.
13. First-Time Managers: Start Thinking Like a Leader
Karli Waldon, President & COO, Talent War Group
The challenge that first-time managers face in today’s dynamic business environment is never experiencing what it is like working for a great leader.
As they step into a new role, everything changes – expanding responsibilities, inspiring and motivating others, managing expectations, creating performance metrics, and personal accountability which can seem overwhelming without the right mindset.
Here are some suggestions to help first-time managers start thinking like leaders.
Establish Expectations: Establish realistic and achievable expectations for evaluation, performance, and accountability as a bedrock for the team and individual members.
Build Relationships: Inspired teams value strong relationships. Active listening and positive rapport set a tone that elevates and values everyone and their contribution to accomplishing the goals.
Adopt a Growth Mindset: New challenges and experiences enable individual and professional growth – remember that while you’re learning how to be a new leader, your team is learning about you. A growth mindset embraces learning with humility, positivity and openness. You don’t need all the answers be open to learning new ways of growing the team.
Be Engaged: Engaged leaders know what team members need to be successful. Encourage collaboration, elevate everyone’s voices and remove obstacles to help them do their jobs effectively.
Empower Others: Delegating responsibility and authority to team members gives them ownership and empowers them to think and act with confidence, which frees new managers to provide guidance and strategy that drives business outcomes.
14. The Inability to Transition Away from Typical Day-To-Day Activities
Joe Karasin, Head of Growth, CircleIt Inc.
One of the major reasons first-time managers fail is that they are unable to transition away from their typical day-to-day activities. Too often, when someone takes total ownership of a project, it is difficult for them to abandon it and pass it along to others. This impact both their ability to delegate and also their ability to achieve results through others.
If someone is in their first management role, it can be difficult to change mindsets. In order to prepare for this, first-timers can do some of the following (which have helped me transition into management).
First, craft a plan built around your team.
In order to effectively delegate, you need to understand the strengths and weaknesses of your individual team members. Then, build out a working plan that can give them the best path to success.
When you have an item on the list that you are having a hard time giving up on, it may be beneficial to choose a team member that you feel has strengths with the skills required to perform the task.
Secondly, schedule several touchpoints early on with the team. These do not need to be individual, but can be. Having two team calls a week will help promote team synergy and also give you the opportunity to keep your eye on your pet projects.
While it may not be the same as working on them directly, you will still be able to stay connected to them and monitor performance.
Third, prepare for new challenges. Management brings on its own share of opportunities beyond what your previous role held.
By spending time to focus on these challenges, you will soon find yourself able to ease up on the direct control over some of these projects.
15. New Managers Should Talk Less and Listen More
Luke Lea, CEO, PalaLeather
A first-time manager is often a breath of fresh air for a company. They come in with new ideas and a willingness to make changes. However, many first-time managers fail because they do not understand the basics of management.
One of the most common mistakes that first-time managers make is talking more and listening less. While it is important for managers to provide guidance and direction, it is also essential to listen to the input of your team.
By understanding their perspectives, you can make better decisions that take into account the needs of everyone involved.
Additionally, actively listening to your team will help to build trust and communication, both of which are essential for a cohesive and productive work environment.
Another mistake that first-time managers often make is saying “I” instead of “we.” When you are a manager, you are part of a team. You should be working together with your team to achieve goals.
Saying “I” instead of “we” shows that you are not a team player and does not inspire confidence in your ability to lead. Instead, try to use “we” statements when talking about the team’s accomplishments.
For example, you could say, “We met our sales goals this quarter,” or “We developed a new product that our customers love.” This type of language shows that you are a team player and that you are invested in the success of the whole team, not just yourself.
Lastly, many first-time managers try to change things too soon. Any big change is going to be overwhelming if you try to tackle it all at once. That’s why, when you’re first starting out as a manager, it’s important to take things slow and only make small changes.
Attempting to complete too much at once is guaranteed to fail. Change takes time, so you need to be patient and take things one step at a time.
By gradually implementing new ideas and processes, you can avoid setbacks.
Slowly but surely, you’ll be able to achieve your vision for the team – but it won’t happen overnight. So be patient, stay focused, and don’t try to bite off more than you can chew.
16. New Managers: Trust Is the Foundation of a Strong Team
Caitlyn Parish, Founder and CEO, Cicinia
First-time managers can find it difficult to make the transition from individual contributor to leader. This is especially true if they are not prepared for the challenges that come with the new role.
To be successful as a manager, first-time managers need to learn to delegate tasks to their team members. As a leader, it is your responsibility to assign tasks and then trust that they will complete them.
However, many first-time managers make the mistake of trying to do everything themselves. This not only leads to burnout, but it also prevents them from focusing on more important tasks. If you want to be successful as a manager, learn to delegate!
Another common mistake that first-time managers make is diving too deep into the details.
As a leader, it is important to have an understanding of what your team is working on; however, you should not be micromanaging every aspect of their work. This will only lead to frustration and will prevent your team from being able to do their best work.
Instead, focus on setting clear goals and then trusting your team to complete the tasks.
Finally, one of the most important things you can do as a first-time manager is to prioritize trust. In order for your team to be successful, they need to trust you as their leader. This means being transparent with them and communicating openly. It also means being consistent in your decisions and following through on your promises.
If you want to build a strong team, make sure that trust is at the foundation! Becoming a first-time manager is not an easy task, but it is possible to overcome the challenges if you are prepared.
17. First-Time Managers: Misunderstanding of Delegation
Molly Beran, President & Founder, Projects By Molly, LLC
One of the biggest reasons I see new managers failing is a misunderstanding of delegation. What new managers need to learn is that delegation is not just “Handle this on my behalf,” there are many different ways and levels for which you can delegate work to others.
Telling someone to complete one step, and then come back and check for direction is one way to delegate. Or, asking someone to just research an option and report back with findings so that you can make a decision about it together is another.
What I see first-time managers struggling with first and foremost is choosing which delegation level is appropriate for a situation, and secondly, with not understanding that assigning their team members challenges is OK.
New managers are eager to protect and don’t want to overwhelm [especially new] employees, but that robs the employee of chance to succeed and learn.
Ultimately, new managers would benefit from trying many different kinds of delegation, trusting their teams, and being there should anything go wrong.
18. New Managers: Failure to Step Away from the “Me” Mentality
Michael Maxwell, Partner-VP of Operations, Blue Orbit | Restaurant Consulting
The reasons first time managers without leadership experience fail vary depending on the individual, but a few of the top reasons are all based on the need to make behavioral changes.
Success for most non-management positions is based on how well they as an individual perform. They grow their salary and position by constantly doing their assigned work better.
New leaders have trouble realizing that success in a management position is based on how well others on the team do their work.
Failure to step away from the “me” mentality creates managers who try to control everything around them taking all the credit for success. Control freaks are demotivating for the team and work results suffer.
Organization and planning are also key to success. In non-management positions people are only responsible for themselves.
In a leadership position, they are responsible for not only organizing their own time, but also the time and work of others. They find themselves juggling multiple projects and deadlines that all require follow up. Days get longer, sleep gets shorter, and burnout gets closer unless they develop a more efficient way to use the calendar.
Success of the manager depends on the success of each team member.
Perhaps the most valuable piece of information any manager can possess is an understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of each person they supervise, along with an understanding of what motivates each of them. This can only be learned by taking the time to get to know each person.
It requires one on one daily interaction and can be time consuming. It also pays huge dividends in gains of trust from subordinates and an understanding of how to assign work geared to individual strengths.
Behavioral changes do not come easily. Behaviors that have brought success in the past are hard to let go of and new ones are hard to learn.
First time managers need help, and they need mentors.
The number one reason new managers fail is because their immediate supervisor fails to invest in them.
Every time a new manager is added to the team, their supervisor should evaluate their strengths and areas of opportunity and use these to create a development plan for that manager. They should set up regular one on ones to see how things are going and to give advice.
Sometimes they need to roleplay difficult conversations and sometimes they need to ask questions that lead the new manager to better decisions.
Most of all they need to be there for their first-time managers with an open door and an open mind. The way they grow and develop their new manager is the way that manager will learn to grow and develop their people.
19. Rookie Managers: A Lack of Confidence
Amie Devero, President & Founder, Beyond Better Strategy and Coaching
There are two themes I see repeatedly. The first is simply a lack of confidence. New managers have never been charged with delegating before. In their past, if they saw something that needed doing, they did it themselves.
Now, they must ask others. There’s a kind of innate reluctance to “burden” someone else. They feel embarrassed or like they would be acting bossy if they asked someone to do something.
Learning how to delegate effectively is a skill, and it can be taught. But in the absence of the confidence to delegate, new managers end up doing everything: their own new job, and that of their direct reports who they won’t task with projects.
The second issue that happens frequently, is that the new manager delegates, but does so badly. That can go one of two ways.
Either they delegate in vague, unclear requests that leave their team lost and confused; or, they micromanage, delegating the most granular of activities and undermining their team’s autonomy.
Both of these are problematic. Overly abstract delegation doesn’t empower employees with the desired outcome and the constraints they need to know how far to go, how long to take and what resources to bring to bear upon a project.
We need guidelines to know how to proceed with complicated initiatives. But, delegating at the level of each individual task is the worst possible way to manage. If you can’t grant your team the breadth to decide how to solve a problem, you end up doing all of the thinking and even the project design for them.
That leaves little time for your own, more highly leveraged work. Plus – and most importantly – it locks out your team’s own creativity and inventiveness. That means you are wasting both time and talent!
19. First-Time Managers: Be Transparent About Strengths and Weaknesses
Catherine vanVonno, President & CEO, 20Four7VA
First-time managers often fail because they are unprepared for the challenges of managing a team. They may lack the necessary skills and knowledge to lead and motivate their employees effectively.
Additionally, first-time managers may also struggle with communicating their vision and goals to their growing team. As a result, their team may become frustrated and disorganized, which can lead to poor performance and, eventually, failure.
To avoid these pitfalls, a manager should be transparent about their strengths and weaknesses. It is easier for projects to be accomplished if the team recognizes each other’s capabilities and vulnerabilities.
First-time managers have to be prepared for the worst-case scenario. They should have a clear plan of action to take in case their team fails to meet expectations.
They should also be willing to listen to feedback from their team and take corrective action when necessary. Part of healthy feedback is creating a positive and supportive environment for their team where employees feel valued. They should also set clear goals and objectives for their team and ensure that everyone is aware of what is expected of them.
Furthermore, first-time managers should provide regular updates on progress and allow employees to provide feedback.
Lastly, first-time managers should always be learning. Experience is the best teacher, and first-time managers should not be afraid to ask for help. They should seek out resources and advice from more experienced managers to help them improve their own skills. There are many resources available to help them learn the ropes.
With the right preparation and attitude, first-time managers can set their team up for success.