Reflection: The New Manager – Striking the Balance

So, You’re a New Manager

Well done, you have been promoted into your first management position!  You prepared well for the application, passed the interview and were successfully selected by the recruiting panel.  This is a great moment and one you should enjoy.  This may be a new managerial position, promotion from an existing team or a move to another organisation.  Either way, as a new manager, this is an opportunity for you to make a difference.

Regardless of what the role is, being a new manager is exciting.  It’s a new chapter in your career, of which you should feel rightly proud.  Just for a moment in time enjoy the now and congratulate yourself on a job well done.  Hopefully, there are people who you can share this with, who will celebrate your achievements.  Celebrate with people who will support you and who are genuinely happy for you.  Take it, enjoy it and mark the occasion well.

What now?  Depending on the position, and how it came about, will depend on your next move.  For instance, if you are new to an organisation, there will be an induction period.  Moreover, if you are a member of an existing team, there will be objectives already set.

Well-Meaning People – Poor Advice

Have you met the well-meaning person, offering advice, yet?  You will.  There are various examples that can almost be categorised.  I have witnessed these people – they don’t have malice but do have a need to promote their own self-worth.  The ones who state: ‘I hope you are ready’ or ‘welcome to the real world’.  Then there is the particularly patronising; ‘You know when I started as a manager, things were a lot tougher…’.  There are the backslappers, the ‘been there, done that’ and a plethora of others waiting to provide you with their stories.  Like the knowing parents who gleefully provide a pregnant mum with how horrific their experience of childbirth was.

They tell their stories to enhance their own value, in an attempt to ‘arm’ you for the future.  By all means, listen but only take what you find useful.

Book Cover for Damn Good Advice by George Lois
How to unleash your creative potential

Psychological Players

In 1964, Eric Berne M.D wrote his seminal book ‘The Games People Play: The Psychology of Human Relationships’.  This was the first business book I ever read.  It was given to me at the age of 18 by a brilliant manager.  He told me, ‘get to know this stuff lad, it works, but most of all, don’t forget why you are here’.  Within the pages, Berne provides various psychological games that people play.  One of these that struck me is called ‘I’m only trying to help you’.  This game sees an individual, providing advice to you.  When you give it a go – try your hardest and fail – frustration takes over, you approach the person stating, ‘look what you made me do’.  The well-meaning manager can then state ‘I was only trying to help’.  Their motive is to position you as ungrateful.

While I fully accept a book written in 1964 seems ancient, there is still something in Berne’s work that strikes a chord.  Why do we constantly come up against people who seemingly want to provide their version of their managerial life?  This is just human psychology, social programming playing out a set of feelings and coherent behaviour patterns.  When this is provided for the good, through coaching and mentoring, for example, it works well.  When this approach is divisive it can harm and enable us to allow the inner critic to creep in.

Revisit the reason you applied, consider deeply the purpose of why you are in the position you are in.  When you are confident with that reflection and decision, you can move forward with purpose.

The Task in Hand

Any business course will begin with ‘businesses exist to make money’.  There are alternatives for government and charity organisations.  I would state that efficiency, effectiveness and creating value for money is still key.  Peter Drucker, states that ‘a management role must have its own authority and responsibility, managers must manage’.  I believe that this is not stated often enough.  Within these words are the reason why you are in the role.  It is to focus on how (usually by objectives) you will meet the strategic priorities.  You clearly bring the skill and aptitude for the role, as you were successful at the interview stage.  Now is the time to consider the ‘how’, to plan and organise your time to maximum effect.

Whether the managerial role is designed to be a standalone role or with a team, there are important questions to consider.  One of these is ‘what specific contribution can I make that will make a substantial difference to the performance of the organisation?’.  This is a starting point that people often forget but is key to success and the role.  With a team, on a project, an interim role, the question still stacks up.  This can be achieved through objectively looking at the people in the team and how to get there.  We also need to consider our own development into the role.  By considering this, you provide yourself with an overview of the task at hand and your own personal objectives.

Change Brings Opportunities 

The onset of change, in this context a new role, acts as an opportunity.  There will not be the opportunity again to be a new manager, nor have the chance to reflect on your personal change.   Reflection is the tool that provides critical thinking about performance, the team and yourself.  You will change through this process as the team will, whether this is positive is down to you.

The only difference in seeing an opportunity or not is our attitude towards it.  To be successful in your role is to commit to each challenge, each opportunity taking in the very best advice you can receive.  The advantage of this approach is that it will be noticed by others.  Regardless of how they feel, presenting a positive attitude will always help.

Series of white doors on a patterned wall
Various paths bring different opportunities

Present and Future

To be able to understand the contribution you can make, an overview of the role and the responsibilities is necessary.  History of the team, group and departmental area will provide good context.  Performance leading up to this point that will inform you of your next moves.  An understanding of what the performance expectation is will provide your goal.  If this is well informed with facts from reliable data, you can set identifiable goals.  This appreciation of the gap will inform your challenge and objectives for the team.

The starting point for this is performance planning, not an appraisal.  This will move your view from the historic to the present and future.  To be able to get a grasp of performance you will also need to know who can enable this with you.  Now you have a plan for honest and open communication focusing on performance, not personal agendas.

By presenting confidence in the role, the future and the team, is winning half the battle.  Conversations with the right people, checking and double checking your position on performance will provide you with confidence.   Communicating to the team and beyond places a firm stake in the ground.  This is the point where many managers struggle, to lay out their expectations and standards.  It is so easy to move with the flow, just move into the role and pick up where the last person left.  If management was easy, everyone would be doing it.  It’s not easy, it requires a positive approach and commitment to delivering solid performance for the organisation.

A New Manager’s New Team

Read any contemporary book on managing teams, it will inform you that this situation creates a new team.  Even if you were promoted from within, the dynamics have significantly changed.  Good quality books such as ‘The Wisdom of Teams’ and ‘The 5 Dysfunctions of Teams’ will help with understanding a pathway through.  The fundamental point remains, it will require building from the beginning even if you were part of the team previously.  In the first instance, there will be a building of trust.  Trust comes through an authentic approach, my reflection on team management provides a deeper insight.  For now, authenticity means showing the team that you are exactly that, a team.

The purpose of a team is to work synergistically.  The get to this point, there is a realisation that each member provides a key skill for their part.  Other members need to be able to trust the individual in completing their element without question.  For trust to form, we need to show our own vulnerability.  As a new manager, this could feel counter-intuitive as you are trying to make your mark and show leadership.

This is where many new managers trip up, trying to have all the answers to all solutions.  It is often the case that in order to please the team and gain acceptance, reverse delegation takes place.  The team either do this as a game or innocently, passing jobs or tasks to the manager that they can not do or is a new problem.


Being authentic means placing yourself out there, being venerable with the intention of being human.  We don’t have all the answers, maybe the wider team does.  Ask the team for ideas and assistance through collaboration.  By performing even this small act, you are communicating to the group that this is the way we need to work.  Openly, respectfully and in a focused, solution driven way.  You may even have a little fun on the way.  Ask questions, discuss the possible solutions be creative.  The wider team are as nervous about this approach as you are, but you need to start somewhere.

There is one element I find that is rarely written about and that is permission giving.  There will be a collective understanding that you are the manager.  They may be waiting for you to start to ‘manage’.  This, in people’s minds, means telling them what to do.  By using a collaborative approach in generating ideas, understanding what performance looks like, for example, you are setting the standard.  If this comes from a place of genuine authenticity, you need to communicate this again and again.

Challenges will come from inside and outside the team, that’s ok, let them.  If your objective is to find a way to efficiency and performance through collaborative working, that’s a great place to be.  Consequently, this will move the team from a place of asking, to an openly providing solutions mode.  You don’t want them to hold onto ideas and wait to be asked, they need to feel empowered to provide what they have.

Final Thoughts For New Managers

Whether you are a seasoned manager or a new one, management constantly throws up challenges.  The pure nature of management should be based on work that achieves organisational objectives.  This is a time for you to make a difference and learn in the process.  Underpinning your approach with knowledge of the team, role and the overall strategic priorities will aid in providing an informed plan.  Utilising an authentic approach through quality discussions with people around you will ensure you have success at achieving your aim.  Will you make mistakes? – yes probably, but it will be the resilience that you demonstrate that will mark you out as a great manager.

Being a new manager is tough but rarely an impossible challenge.  Through remaining pragmatic and authentic you will begin forming the basis of high performance.  Creating a strong yet flexible plan for the provided a solid foundation to work from.

Striking the balance is the role of every manager; the balance between providing high performance for the organisation and being that key individual in the team.  Generally, people want to give their best, use the skills they have to best effect.  Your role is to draw these out by facilitating the plan that you created.

High performance is tough to achieve, even harder to maintain, but always rewarding.  Good luck.

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