3 First-Time Manager Mistakes: How 6 Leaders Learned from Their Missteps

Congratulations—you earned your promotion, and you’re a proud first-time manager ready to take on the world like the boss you know you are.

The problem is, you’ve never managed anyone before, at least not in this specific role. While you crushed it in your previous position, your work did not prepare you to manage others.

While the cliche claims that experience is the best teacher, no one said it had to be your experience. We talked to six seasoned managers to uncover common issues first-time managers face.

So, before you stumble through these common missteps, take a cue from these managers who shared their rookie mistakes (and what they learned from them).

1. Prioritizing Productivity Over People

As a new manager, you might be tempted to focus on productivity and measurable metrics because you’re eager to prove your worth. But experienced managers say that forgetting about the humans behind the work is a major mistake.

“I was hyperfocused on our work and increasing our collective output,” says Peter Morrell, growth marketing manager at WizardPins. “I’d work with someone for six months and realize I had very little insight into their life outside of work.”

When you focus too intensely on productivity and numbers, your employees’ personalities fade into the background.

Chris Zaugg, Co-founder of Uptick, says that when he didn’t make time for face-to-face interaction with his team members, he viewed them as two-dimensional figures — looking only at their performance without any personal context.

“I realized I couldn’t support my team or position them for success without a close-up look at their lives and their challenges,” Zaugg says.

First-time managers often obsess over measurable output without realizing they’re taking a backward approach. Putting people first actually boosts productivity — employees are 13% more productive when they’re happy.

How to Avoid this First-Time Manager Mistake

If you want to encourage productivity, you need to spend time getting to know your team on a more personal level. “Find a way to create time and space for non-work chat,” Morrell says. “I implemented Friday afternoon hangouts with one rule — no talking about anything work-related.”

Zaugg stresses the importance of face-to-face interaction. “After 20 minutes of eye contact and close conversation, my team members sprung into three-dimensional human beings with hopes and dreams.” Zaugg now makes more time for one-on-one conversations, video calls, and lunches with his team.

To build an effective team, you have to play the long game — support your employees, and trust that it will pay off in the future. “When I look back on my team-leading days, the stories I remember most are always around people,” says Micky Pfeiffer, regional HR manager at Dollar Tree. “Metrics, KPRs, P&Ls — they end up being just numbers. It’s the people that make your business.”

2. Putting Off Providing Feedback

Experienced and first-time managers alike struggle to provide real-time feedback. However, we found that first-time managers, in particular, lack confidence in their ability to provide useful feedback, so they put it off for far too long.

In her early days of management, Pfeiffer of Dollar Tree avoided talking to a supervisor about their performance issues. “I had blinders on for far too long and lost some staff” Pfieffer says. “It took my more vocal crew to bring me back to what this person was doing to them and the business.”

Morena Simatic, VP of marketing and growth at OptimoRoute, made a similar mistake. “I didn’t respond to poor performance immediately,” Simatic says. “With everyone else performing well, I didn’t know, nor did I have the courage to give constructive feedback to those who were not. The rest of the team took on the burden.”

How to Avoid this First-Time Manager Mistake

You can get ahead of this issue by building feedback opportunities into your regular routine.

“Make sure to have frequent one-on-ones with your team,” Simatic says. “There is no such thing as over communication. I should have addressed the issue earlier and provided constructive feedback at the time it happened.”

Pfieffer uses her regular check-ins to take a closer look at her team’s body language and facial expressions. “The more you can understand what is really happening with someone who reports to you, beyond what words they are using, the better you’ll understand them,” she says. “That knowledge can be used in so many ways: support, motivation, and accountability.”

Keep in mind that not all feedback has to be constructive. Set aside time in weekly one-on-ones to share different types of feedback, such as praise or guidance.

3. Micromanaging

Your team doesn’t need a babysitter. As a first-time manager, you might feel the need to constantly monitor your team’s work, but that’s a rookie mistake.

“It was definitely hard for me to entrust someone else to get things done quickly and in the best way possible initially,” says Gokul Suresh, senior marketing manager at Whatfix. Suresh says that once he stopped meddling with people’s work processes, he found his team brought in a new perspective and higher-quality work.

Gail Marie, director of content at Animalz, stumbled into micromanaging as well. “I once wrote a lengthy document explaining in great detail how to conduct and get the most out of a brief weekly meeting,” Marie says. “My intent was to be helpful, but I was actually micromanaging.”

Like Marie, many first-time managers have the best intentions but end up doing more harm than good. Micromanaging leads to a variety of issues, such as increasing your team’s risk of stress and depression. When you nitpick or over direct, your team members get frustrated with you as a leader and lose confidence in their own abilities.

How to Avoid this First-Time Manager Mistake

If you want to avoid breathing down your employees’ necks, you need to feel confident in your team’s abilities. But micromanaging can sneak up on you, so it’s equally important to recognize and acknowledge when you’ve overstepped.

Suresh says that having faith in his employees from the start would have saved him a lot of time and allowed him to build deeper relationships with his team. Zaugg of Uptick makes a related point: “At the end of the day, if I can’t trust my team members, then they shouldn’t be on my team.”

If you slip up, don’t be afraid to admit it. After Marie realized her detailed document was heavy-handed, she apologized and encouraged her team to disregard the instructions. “I told my team, ‘Y’all are smart, creative people who want to do good work. I know that. So go on and be those awesome people,’” Marie says.

Be the Manager Your Team Deserves

Manager behavior is one of the top 10 reasons employees quit their jobs. Being a first-time manager is difficult, but tools like Uptick can help you avoid mistakes that could cost you some of your top performers. You can use Uptick to proactively build a rapport with each of your team members.

Frequent meetings, in tandem with Uptick’s one-on-one management, give you the chance to spend time asking personal questions and getting to know your team members as individuals. A regular cadence allows for more meaningful conversations and creative brainstorming because no one is worried about missing their one and only chance to talk. It also shows your team that you are there to listen to and support them, not just supervise their work.