5 Hurdles for First-Time Managers & How to Clear Them

Have you ever seen a corgi run a hurdle race? Being a first-time manager can sometimes feel like that.

According to sales management guru Ken Thoreson, the reason many rookies only make it around the track for about a year is because they lack patience with less-skilled employees and easily become frustrated. Luckily, managing isn’t impossible if you’re willing to put in the work. Here are some common hurdles that trip up new managers and how you can clear them:

1. Coaching Effectively — As both the team’s biggest cheerleader and coach, rookie managers often fail to set clear expectations for employees to stay motivated. As a coach, establish clear expectations, reasonable objectives, and measurable results (ya know, S-M-A-R-T! goals) to keep everyone on the same page. Frequent communication and encouragement (without the pom poms) will do wonders for motivation and productivity.

2. Keeping time — Moving up in the ranks means acquiring more work to oversee, which can be a difficult transition. To help juggle your time, block off your calendar with private “meetings” to work on specific tasks (e.g. powerpoint presentations outlining your many accomplishments). Don’t be afraid to use physical barriers like closing your door or wearing headphones to limit interruptions and nonverbally communicate “not now.”

3. Managing peers and friends — Relationship dynamics change when you become the boss of former co-workers, a reality that blindsides many first-timers. The fix? Establish an understanding that personal relationships with your employees need to be maintained outside of work. If you experience pushback from your old work buddies, discuss this openly with them and let them know how you would like to manage the relationships at work.

4. Handling tryouts and cuts — Just like making a track team, you’ll struggle with hiring if you don’t have standardized ways to judge each prospect’s potential. Many new managers mistakenly go with their gut when hiring, but should take advantage of tried-and-true hiring and interviewing resources such as job description templates, behavioral-based questionnaires, and skill tests. 

As for firing, new managers should get additional input on how to establish a performance improvement plan before cutting a team member to make the best decision the first few times. To avoid legal trouble, stay updated on the latest company policies and partner with HR to decide the best approach in each situation.

5. Delegating tasks  Rookie Managers often feel the need to deal with every issue and have an "I-can-do-it-better/faster/stronger" mindset. This doesn't scale easily and will result in more work hours for you. Practice coaching your team with incrementally bigger tasks and then hand off the baton when you're comfortable. By knowing your employees' strengths and weaknesses, you can help then un areas where they are laching, and know when you can trust them with bigger tasks. Online training courses can quickly help to get your team up to speed with new processes and tasks. Frequent feedback and communication will hlep your team be more awesome.

Make the transition to varsity a little smoother with these additional moves:


    • “I’m dealing with an issue, could I run it by you to get your thoughts?”
    • “I’m working on a project and have some trouble with X part of it — would you mind taking a look?”
    • “I’m trying to do X better. Can I pick your brain to see what works best for you?”

  • Train yourself — An online “Manager 101” course is a great way to learn the ropes on your own time. E-learning platforms like Bridge make it easy to watch videos and review best practices whenever, wherever.

  • Find a mentor — If your company has a mentor program, take advantage of it. If you don’t want to go that route, find someone you already trust and respect to encourage you through your early seasons as manager.

  • Look ahead — While you’ve got to deal with inherited shortcomings, don’t keep your focus there. Management expert Ken Thoreson says building a culture of high-performance is a balance between managing present issues and focusing on the desired culture and leadership you want for your team. If you’re not sure what that might entail, don’t be afraid to ask your direct reports for their input.

Like starting a race, being a new manager in any industry can be overwhelming at first, but you know there’s gold at the end. If you prepare for the hurdles that may come, you’ll be clearing them like a pro in no time.

What unexpected challenges have you faced as a rookie manager? Share with us in the comments.

Learn More

See for yourself how Bridge can make your workforce smarter faster.