The transition into a managerial role is difficult because it typically requires people to exercise a set of skills that are quite different from the ones that supported their promotion into the position. So many managers start out as excellent individual contributors, and now they have to motivate a team of people, communicate with them effectively, and ensure that they carry out high-quality work.

So it shouldn’t be surprising that new managers make lots of mistakes. Here are a few common ones to watch out for:

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As a new manager, you’re probably eager to demonstrate that you belong in your new role. Consequently, you may want to take some action to show that you’re an effective team leader.

The most important thing you can do in your first weeks in a managerial role is to listen. Talk to each of your direct reports. Get a feel for what they like and dislike about their work. Talk to them about how the processes the group uses are working. Have them help you identify resources that might be needed to accomplish key tasks.

These conversations will help to ensure that you don’t inadvertently make changes that disrupt aspects of the team’s work that are running smoothly. In addition, the more you know about your team, the better you will be at communicating with them later. Knowing their goals and aspirations can help you to connect feedback and requests to their goals and values. Finally, by listening to your team members, you take a step toward building trust by respecting their knowledge and experience.


New managers typically construct their feedback to others based on what they would have wanted to hear in the same situation. They use their own experience as a model for how to influence the behavior of others.

That quickly leads to the recognition that there are big individual differences among people in what motivates them. To help temper this tendency, it is valuable to learn about two significant sources of variation across people. First, develop a familiarity with the Big Five personality characteristics: Openness to Experience, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness, and Neuroticism. These characteristics reflect significant ways that people vary in their default motivations. As you learn about these characteristics, you will become more aware of ways that people differ from you, which can help you predict how they will react to situations and feedback.

Second, familiarize yourself with key differences in values among people. Values reflect the lenses people use to determine what is important to them and what they like. These values can shift over the course of a person’s life, but they reflect a combination of enculturation, experience, and heredity. One way to familiarize yourself with these values is to take a values survey for yourself.


New managers are often put into situations in which they have to have difficult conversations. A common scenario is that a particular employee is underperforming in some way, and—as supervisor—the manager has to discuss both what is going wrong as well as what needs to be done to fix the problem.

Unfortunately, these conversations are hard (particularly for people who have the personality characteristic of being highly agreeable, which reflects that they are motivated to be liked by others). When you criticize someone else’s performance, you are likely to make them feel bad. You may also find that your criticisms meet with resistance.

To avoid negative reactions, it is common to talk around the problem. You may use the infamous sh*t sandwich, in which the criticism is placed between two fluffy slices of compliment. You may find it hard to give a crisp statement of your concern and so you talk about it abstractly. These strategies make the initial conversation easier, but they don’t help your supervisees to know what is wrong or how to improve it.

Instead, adopt the XYZ statement:

You did X, it caused Y, and in the future I would like you to do Z.

This formula is nice, because it contains a clear statement of the problem and its result and suggests an alternative approach for future situations. By focusing on clear actions and consequences, you also avoid talking about other people’s motives, which is often a trigger for them to get defensive.

Finally, many organizations provide training for new managers to help them develop these skills as supervisors. Take advantage of every class that is offered. If your organization does not provide this training, talk with your supervisor about getting reimbursed for taking a program at a nearby college or university to help you pick up the many new skills that will make you a great leader of people.

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