Andy: I was reminiscing with a friend the other day. She’s two years into her first managing role, and the intensity of that “I’m not very good at this” feeling is just now beginning to fade.
Emma: Two years sounds right to me. It’s a feeling with a lot of staying power.
Andy: That feeling is the one thing that every new manager has in common. Going from a top-performing individual contributor to a newly minted manager comes with a huge drop: from being good at your job and knowing it to being pretty terrible at your job and knowing it.
Emma: It’s the universal experience! And most of us forget, or were never told, that being terrible and having to get better is just part of it. You just realize it in real time, again and again, as it’s happening. Andy and I talk about this all the time: is it possible to not feel that way?
Andy: Not really. I think the job is just too hard and weird. The one thing that helped me feel less freaked out as a new manager was being reminded that I had the role for good reasons, that my boss and their boss were glad it was me and not anybody else.
Emma: Getting even a tiny nugget of validation is such a relief. I wish it happened more often. I wish we heard it enough to have it echo in our brains: “You are good! You are good!”
Andy: Lol let’s do it now. This is what I would tell my new manager self today, and what I want every new manager to know:
They picked you because you’re actually going to be great at this. You’re a really fast learner. You’re aware of your foibles, and you’re self-correcting. You know how to admit when you’re in over your head. There are a bunch of other things too — you’re empathetic, you care, you want to be good at your job. You take this seriously. You’re approachable. I could keep going!
Emma: I would tell them what had been going on behind the scenes:
There was a need for a manager, probably a pretty painful one. Your boss and their boss met. They had a list of names in front of them, and yours was on it. Your boss thought about you — how they trust your judgement, how they like to work with you and solve problems with you, how they’re excited to help you grow. Your boss pointed to your name and said, That’s who I want for the role. They built a compelling case, championed you, and their boss agreed.
Andy: I would remind them that there will be mistakes, lots of them, and that it’s par for the course:
You’ll mess up a bunch, and it will not feel good. Someone will ask you a question, and you’ll have to answer, “Let me get back to you,” but you won’t know that sentence yet, so you might just stand there blankly, like the teleprompter went out. This is normal when you’re doing a hard job for the first time. It’s not proof that they should have chosen someone else or that you should beat yourself up. One day, pretty soon, you’ll know the sentence and say it. And one day, you’ll also know the answer to the question and you’ll say that instead.
Emma: And I would tell them that they are the exact right person to be making those mistakes:
No one is surprised you’re not perfect. Your boss championed you to be the one to make the mistakes and they are glad you’re the one handling them.
What to Tell New Managers
We’ve both been new managers, and we’ve both hired and promoted first-timers into management roles. In our experience, here are some phrases to have on repeat:
There’s no one else I’d rather have doing this job than you.
Mistakes will be made.
This is totally normal.
Do not beat yourself up over this.
I expect it’s going to be hard and you won’t do everything perfectly — honestly, no one could.
I’m here to help — anytime you have a question, you can chat me. It will help to say, “Do you have X minutes before Y time? I have a question about Z.”
I’ll always make time for you. You are not alone in this.
Wow, that was impressive. You…
Let’s take a moment to acknowledge this — it’s probably your first time doing X.
Do you want to practice with me?
I can model it for you. Would you like that?
Want to know how I’ve handled something like this before?
What does your instinct tell you?
You can always say, “Great question. Let me get back to you.” Or, “I’ll need to find out. I’ll write that down.”
I’m so glad you’re doing this job.