The Courage to Lead: Overcoming the Challenges of First-Time Managers

“We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.”

-Albert Einstein


In today’s fast-paced and competitive business environment, the role of the people manager is critical to the success of both the organization and the individual employees. However, research shows that, especially in frontline direct customer contact businesses, there is a higher risk of turnover among managers than the non-manager roles. In fact, managers are 1.75 times more likely than nonmanagers to consider leaving their jobs (63 percent versus 36 percent).

Given the need to hire this critical role at a rapid rate to keep pace with departures, many companies have had to look for candidates that are available, including those that had not previously held any supervisory roles. This course of action begs the following questions:

  • What is the risk of introducing first-time managers into an organization?
  • How can companies ensure that their first-time managers are successful?

The Risk of First-Time Managers

Research conducted by Oji Life Lab has shed light on the challenges faced by these newly minted managers and their impact on their teams. The skills deficit in first-time managers has led to stress, anxiety, and even employees considering leaving their companies. So, what are these challenges and how can companies overcome them?

The Impact of Unprepared First-Time Managers

The Oji Leadership Poll revealed alarming insights into the consequences of inexperienced managers in the workplace. Over 40% of employees reported experiencing stress or anxiety about going to work when dealing with a first-time manager. Additionally, more than a third lacked motivation, and 1 in 5 employees struggled with sleep due to the impacts of inadequate management skills.

The research also highlighted significant skill gaps among first-time managers. Areas such as reducing conflict, managing demanding situations, providing quality feedback, running productive meetings, and making decisions were areas where 4 in 10 workers rated their managers as weak.

The challenges were more pronounced among older employees and women. Over half of workers aged fifty-five and above rated first-time managers negatively, with women over 55 being the most likely to rate new managers as weak in handling difficult situations and providing feedback. Given this impact on traditionally marginalized groups, the ineffective managers are not only handcuffing the companies but negatively impacting their DEI goals as well.

Rising to Meet the Challenge?

With so many new managers having come from outside the ranks of those with supervisory experience, they lack the instincts that years of repetition and lessons painfully learned have honed. Where experience does not exist as a teacher, these first-time managers must rely on their skills to lead them to success.

The issue is that transitioning from a sole contributor to a managerial role requires a shift in focus and the development of new skill sets. While sole contributors may excel in their individual roles, certain skills that make them successful in their current position may not directly translate to effective management. The result is skill gaps that hinder the performance of the first-time manager and by extension restrain their teams from reaching their full potential.

The Skill Gaps

Technical Expertise

Sole contributors often excel in their specific area of technology, but managers need a broader understanding of multiple areas and should focus on strategic decision-making rather than getting too deep into technical details.

Delegating Tasks

A sole contributor is accustomed to overseeing tasks independently, but as a manager, they must learn to delegate responsibilities and trust their team members to execute them effectively.


While sole contributors need effective communication skills, managerial roles require more extensive communication abilities to guide and motivate a team, resolve conflicts, and interact with stakeholders effectively.

Coaching and Mentoring

Managers need to support and develop their team members. This means providing guidance, and feedback, and helping them grow professionally, which can be different from just focusing on individual performance. Managers must do more than just observe the performance of their teams, they must be able to create concrete action plans that can motivate team members to improve their performance within a measured period.

Emotional Intelligence

Managers must be adept at understanding and managing their emotions and those of their team members. Emotional intelligence plays a significant role in building strong relationships and fostering a positive work environment.

Conflict Resolution

Managers need to manage conflicts between team members, departments, or external parties. This requires tact, diplomacy, and the ability to find mutually beneficial resolutions.

Change Management

Managers often deal with organizational changes and should be capable of guiding their team through transitions effectively.

Business acumen

While sole contributors may focus on their specific tasks, managers need to understand the broader organizational goals, budgeting, and how their team’s work contributes to the overall success of the company.


Managers face more complex decisions that involve considering several factors and potential consequences, which can be different from the more straightforward decisions made by individual contributors.

Overall, making the transition from a sole contributor to a manager involves developing a more people-centric and strategic mindset rather than solely focusing on individual tasks and technical expertise.

First-time managers must reassess their skills and talents and develop a leader’s mindset to guide and motivate their teams effectively.

Training programs can provide foundational leadership knowledge, including recruitment, performance management, and building high-performing teams. By helping new managers develop this essential mindset, they gain the perspective, confidence, and wisdom needed to navigate their roles successfully.

Identifying and Bridging Skills Gaps

Since these managers do not have years of experience to rely on, the ability for them to recognize their innate leadership strengths and areas where they may lack skills is crucial for new managers. Identifying and addressing these skills gaps is vital for their development as effective leaders.

So, what skills should you be looking for in identifying the candidates that have these basic skills by default so the path to success is shorter?

The Attributes for First-Time Manager Success

Strong Communication Skills

Effective communication is the foundation of successful leadership. First-time managers must be able to convey ideas clearly, actively listen to their team members, and provide constructive feedback. Adept communication fosters a collaborative and supportive work environment.

Emotional Intelligence

Empathy, self-awareness, and the ability to manage emotions are vital attributes for any leader. First-time managers with high emotional intelligence can understand and relate to their team members’ feelings, promoting trust and positive relationships.

Adaptability and Flexibility

In a dynamic work environment, adaptability is key. First-time managers should be able to navigate change, make quick decisions, and adjust their strategies to meet evolving challenges.

Critical Thinking Skills

Managers must have the ability to identify issues, analyze situations, and implement effective solutions. Critical thinking skills enable them to address challenges proactively and maintain team productivity.

Delegation and Time Management

First-time managers should be proficient in delegating tasks, recognizing their team member’s strengths, and managing workloads effectively. Proper time management ensures that both individual and team goals are met efficiently.

Resilience and Confidence

Leadership roles can be demanding, and resilience is crucial to overcome setbacks and obstacles. Confident managers inspire their teams and foster a positive work atmosphere.

Team-Building Abilities

A successful first-time manager can build a cohesive team by recognizing each member’s contributions and promoting collaboration. They celebrate achievements and encourage a sense of camaraderie among team members.

Learning Mindset

First-time managers should possess a thirst for knowledge and a willingness to continuously improve. A learning mindset enables them to seek feedback, embrace innovative ideas, and grow as leaders.

Recognition and Rewards

Recognizing the efforts and achievements of first-time managers can boost their confidence and morale. Acknowledging their successes encourages them to continue growing as effective leaders.

Finding the Diamonds in the Rough

Next, interview guides and screening questions must be kept up to date and instructions provided to those interacting with the candidates to ensure all aspects of your sourcing activities remain aligned to your recruiting priorities.

Supporting First-Time Managers for Success

With the right candidates identified and hired, you should now evaluate the company’s support mechanisms to make sure the new managers have what is needed to be successful. To create such a nurturing environment for first-time managers and their teams, organizations should consider implementing the following strategies:

Robust Training Programs

Companies must invest in comprehensive leadership training programs for all employees transitioning into managerial roles. Such programs should focus on conflict resolution, decision-making, effective communication, feedback delivery, and other essential managerial skills.

Mentorship and Coaching

Pairing first-time managers with experienced mentors or coaches can significantly accelerate their learning curve. Mentorship provides a safe space for new managers to seek guidance, share concerns, and receive constructive feedback.

Continuous Learning and Development

Learning is a continuous process, and organizations should encourage ongoing professional development for all managers. Offering access to workshops, seminars, and leadership conferences will help managers stay updated on the latest trends and best practices.

Feedback Mechanisms

Establishing regular feedback loops between employees and their managers can foster a culture of open communication. This enables managers to understand their strengths and areas for improvement, while employees feel heard and supported.

Recognition and Rewards

Recognizing the efforts and achievements of first-time managers can boost their confidence and morale. Acknowledging their successes encourages them to continue growing as effective leaders.

While this may seem like a lot of work in your already too-busy day, fear not. Help is a phone call away. At Mercury Performance Group, a company helping organizations of five hundred or more employees solve their HR problems, empower their employees, and elevate their performance, we have tried and tested methods in our M-Factor Toolkit that can help you tailor your processes to reach your goals. We also can help you develop the best approach to training both your new and you are most tenured managers.


Becoming a successful first-time manager involves overcoming various challenges that can impact both teams and overall business outcomes. To ensure their development, organizations must identify the crucial attributes that enable first-time managers to thrive.

Companies can achieve this by offering comprehensive training and cultivating a supportive environment. Recognizing the significance of investing in managerial staff, companies should provide the necessary resources and support. Implementing a manager training program is a vital initiative to equip first-time managers with essential leadership skills, enabling them to navigate the complexities of their roles successfully. By prioritizing the development of first-time managers, companies can foster a positive work environment and ultimately achieve improved business results.


Oji Life Lab. “Press Release: American Workers are Anxious, Losing Sleep and Considering Jumping Ship Due to Unprepared First-Time Managers.” July 17, 2023.

Oji Leadership Poll conducted by Harris Research. June 2023.

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