Five Fundamentals for New Managers

Published: Jan 24, 2019
Modified: Jan 18, 2023

By Wayne Madden

If you’re managing others for the first time, it’s natural to feel a bit of anxiety about your new role. To help you start off on the right foot, here are five management fundamentals that will put you on the path to managerial success.

1. Forget the word “Boss.”
Terms like boss and supervisor were appropriate during the Industrial Revolution when there were clear distinctions between the “white-collar” elite and the “blue-collar” workers they supervised. Today, those words simply aren’t an accurate portrayal of this new role you are taking on, and they could have a negative effect on you.

Instead, use terms like these: “chief-collaborator,” “team-leader,” “obstacle-remover,” “advisor,” and “the-buck-stops-here-person.” Sure, they are mostly made-up terms that may seem silly at first. And, certainly, no one is going to address you using any of them. (Your team should just call you by your name). However, I believe that keeping these types of terms in mind will give you the right perspective. Your role as a manager is not to boss people around or just to supervise their work. Your role is to ensure that you and your team members work effectively as individuals and a team to accomplish or exceed your individual and team goals with the least amount of resistance, the maximum use of effort, time, and talent, and the appropriate amount of recognition, praise, and compensation.

Keeping my made-up terms in mind, you can think of your role in ways that are more accurate for today’s workplace:

  • You collaborate with team members, engaging them to create ideas or solve problems, but you are surely the “chief” collaborator as you seek consensus while remaining accountable for making final decisions.
  • You are a team leader in that you must lead by example. Like the coxswain of a boat, you coordinate and weave together the actions of the team for maximum effect.
  • You work to remove any obstacles (e.g., interdepartment issues, unexpected obstacles with customers, system or application inefficiencies or gaps, gaps in talent).
  • You serve as an advisor to those who work for you, giving perspective on strengths and weaknesses, advising on how to improve skills and excel, and advising on how they can best engage successfully with the team and the organization.
  • You decide early on to be accountable for you and your team and realize that the buck does and must stop with you (and realize that in the world of “management,” you will be held accountable). Throwing your team members under the bus won’t cut it. You are accountable.

2. Be Honest
This one is really important. You should be honest with those who work for you and with you and expect the same in return. If you sacrifice your integrity as a manager, you will certainly fail in the first step toward true leadership, which is to gain and share mutual trust and respect.

Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Nothing astonishes men so much as common sense and plain dealing.” You will get a very positive reaction from others when you “deal plainly,” meaning, when you are transparent, open, and honest in the way you deal with people. Here are some ways to accomplish this:

  • Know yourself. Identify your strengths, limitations, weaknesses, opportunities for growth, etc., and simply be honest about those when managing situations and people.
  • Be truthful. Tell the truth, but be tactful when discussing something that might be painful or perhaps surprise or offend someone.
  • Operate with integrity and clarity. Speak and act in such a way that you are seen as consistently clear about your words and actions, and reasons for them both.
  • Honor others. Start with the presumption that everyone is of value and worthy of civility and respect. I cannot tell you how many times I have seen managers derail their effectiveness and potential by simply dishonoring others through gossip, disrespectful words, or other means when they thought only of trying to make themselves look good.

3. Show Compassion
Compassion is a very powerful management tool. Try to “walk in others’ shoes” and see things from a different perspective. Take the time to ask someone to expand on what is going on in their head or heart that may be influencing their responses or behavior, then acknowledge their feelings and thoughts. Are they feeling overwhelmed by work because of a lack of knowledge or training or because they are stretched too thin? Do they feel underappreciated? Are they lacking perspective? Are they just stressed in the moment and freaking out?

Put compassion into action by doing the following:

  • Listen well and empathize. Try to get beyond the person’s first wave of emotion by asking probing questions to find out what is really going on. Think before you react. Seek to understand, then ask them to listen to your perspective, advice, or decision.
  • Be genuinely caring. If you go to work only caring about yourself, it is going to be hard to connect with others and hard to be an effective manager.
  • Share some of yourself. There will be times when you can best help someone by sharing something about yourself—your thoughts, desires, actions, failures, or successes. Your experience may be the example someone needs to deal with a challenge, so humbly share a bit of yourself as appropriate.
  • Admit your own mistakes. By showing a willingness to admit your own mistakes and shortcomings, you can help your team overcome feelings of vulnerability or fear. They see that you are human, like them, and that you have experienced similar situations.

4. Set Clear Expectations
If you want your team to deliver what you expect you must clearly outline both the results you are looking for and how you will measure their progress. There is nothing more frustrating for employees than finding out that what they are doing is not what was expected, or hearing at their annual review that you have had unspoken issues with their performance. So, set expectations for behavior and results, and communicate any ongoing concerns or praise through regular employee coaching sessions.

Here are a few tips for setting expectations:

  • Do what you say you’re going to do. Saying no to giving assistance is much better than saying yes and then failing to deliver, leaving someone in the lurch.
  • Model follow through by your own actions
  • Be clear about expected outcomes. When discussing an assignment or task with someone you manage, clearly state what you expect and ask the person to state any questions or concerns up front. Address those questions or concerns clearly and honestly.
  • Avoid last-minute “curve balls.” If expectations change or if you have concerns about progress or performance, communicate that quickly and give team members an opportunity to adapt.
  • Consistently demonstrate that you honor true effort. Your direct reports will not always achieve stated goals or deliver exactly as expected. If you know that they gave their all, honor that effort as you then examine what obstacles may have prevented the expected results.
  • Be generous with praise. You simply cannot give enough recognition to people who are doing a good job.

5. Keep It Positive
There is no more dangerous path for a manager than the road to negativity. Joining in on negative commentary regarding the company, another manager, a worker, a department, etc., will render you ineffective and will erode your team’s confidence in you by subtly eating away the foundation of mutual trust and respect. In addition, by joining in on negativity regarding the organization, its leaders, or its systems, you model and promote bad behaviors and attitudes.

You want your team to know you are on their side. However, there are ways you can do this without indulging in negativity. You can acknowledge their concerns and say that you understand why they might have a given view. You can ask them what solution they would like. You can then attempt to address their concerns with the right people and report back to your team. These actions build confidence, trust, and respect, and demonstrate true leadership versus just being “one of the gang.” Be a champion for your team by resolving problems in a positive manner. Give support to your organization’s leadership by taking any specific concerns you have directly to your manager, instead of discussing them with your direct reports.

Becoming a first-time manager is very exciting and presents you with an opportunity to move up in the company, gain recognition, and directly influence results and success. However, this new role also brings new accountability and, possibly, some new fears. Remember, every manager and leader was new to the role at some point. My last suggestion to you is to find a mentor in your own organization who is regarded as a “good” manager and buy him or her lunch or a cup of coffee in exchange for their open ears and sound advice.

Here are some additional resources for new managers:

About the Author(s)

Wayne Madden is founder and CEO of Madden Business Development (, a consultancy that offers education, consulting, facilitation, and coaching. He has worked as a software developer, speaker, and author