5 Fundamental Skills for First-Time Managers

There’s often barely enough time to take a lunch break in the fast-paced startup environment, much less to receive formal management training. It’s a hit-the-ground-running mantra, and there’s always something for everyone to do and learn.

As a leader in the startup world, you might find yourself managing people for the first time without the training and gradual development that leaders in established companies receive. Confidence in the role and passion for the company’s mission is a good start, but you also have to develop the skill set of a good manager.

The good news is that you can develop your management style and earn respect from your team on your own accord. Here are the five essential management skills every first-time manager should master, as deemed most important by some of the most successful leaders in the world.


1. Clarify expectations

Many organizations are guilty of running at 90 mph without a solid idea of where they’re headed. Our Workplace Accountability Study revealed that 85 percent of employees weren’t clear about what their organizations were trying to achieve.

When leaders fail to identify a clear finish line for employees to work toward, confusion and disengagement can quickly permeate the organization. With that said, you’ll want to define your desired results and repeatedly communicate them to your employees until you achieve them. Schedule a team meeting to discuss such goals and expectations, and establish a path of open communication to answer questions, clarify roles and responsibilities and determine solutions for the biggest challenges. When your employees have a clear understanding of what’s expected of them, they’ll be more likely to deliver results.

2. Lead with your desired workplace culture in mind

Don’t just let culture happen. Lead it.

As a manager, your job is to set the intention for your team. If you want to see your team exhibit new behaviors, engage in more collaboration, practice better accountability or have lunch together once a week, you can make it happen. However, simply telling people to think or behave a certain way doesn’t mean they will. Instead, you can foster workplace culture by creating situations for new thinking and behaviors to take root.

Take, for example, a senior manager at one of the fastest-growing startups in the country who wanted to encourage a collaborative work culture. He started hosting weekly potlucks on Friday afternoons, giving his team a chance to disconnect from their day-to-day roles and responsibilities and instead connect with one another as people. Beyond the immediate benefit of staying aligned on projects, processes and client interactions, the guaranteed weekly communication prevented silos from forming throughout the week. Everyone on the team now knows that sharing ideas and information is critical to the company culture, namely because their manager made collaboration a priority rather than an afterthought.

3. Give recognition where it’s due

While often overlooked, giving recognition is an important aspect of an effective management style. The 2018 Work and Well-Being Survey conducted by the American Psychological Association revealed that 57 percent of employees feel satisfied with their company’s employee recognition practices. Those who felt valued by their employers were also more likely to be motivated at work.

More than money and incentives, simply thanking your employees for their hard work shows that you respect and appreciate them. Failing to express such appreciation and acknowledge can put a damper on workplace spirits.

No matter how busy you are, there’s always time to recognize your employees. Acknowledge their successes as well as mistakes, providing feedback and support where necessary.

4. Ask for feedback

When was the last time you received feedback from a member of your team? If it’s not happening daily, it’s not happening enough.

Studies show that managers who receive regular feedback are more profitable than those who fail to do so. Notice it’s those who receive not those who give. While providing your team members with honest, constructive and consistent feedback is your responsibility as their manager, the best leaders know they can also learn from their employees.

You’ll always benefit from hearing what your employees think and believe – and they’ll respect you more for creating opportunities for open communication and listening to them. Understanding their perspectives will help you correct your own mistakes and tweak your management style to better meet their needs and preferences. Plus, when you understand the biggest challenges from their perspectives, you’ll be better equipped to address them.

5. Manage your time wisely

You want to make sure you and your team are focused on the projects and goals that matter most. The way you spend your time sends a clear message to your team about how they should structure their own day-to-day schedules and manage their resources.

For instance, in speaking with the founder of a booming tech startup, we learned that the company spent the first two years in business focusing on building the quality of the product. The firm didn’t even hire a salesperson until year three. Doing so sent a clear message to the team that quality comes before anything else.

Creating results and shaping change

Being a new manager doesn’t mean you can’t be an impactful one. While there may not be time at your startup to formally train and develop leaders, you can get up to speed quickly by honing these fundamental skills.

Related Stories

Learn More

4 Steps to Creating a Culture of Accountability

Learn More

Responsibility vs. Accountability

Learn More

Why Companies with a Good Product and Strategy Aren’t Succeeding

What Can We Help You Find?