6 first time management tips from CEOs

A selection of chief executives share their advice for novice bosses.

by Adam Gale
Last Updated: 13 Jan 2017

It’s your first day as a manager and you’re scared. If you’re expecting a reassuring ‘there’s absolutely nothing to worry about, you’ll be fine’ from us, you’re going to be disappointed. You have every reason to be scared.

It’s on you now. There’s no hiding any more, no burying your head in the comfort of your own to-do list. All eyes will be on you when you step into that office. What shall we do now, boss? It’s not just what your team’s doing that will be your business, it’s how they feel, what motivates them, what’s bothering them.  

Worst of all, there’s no guarantee you’ll be any good at this. We persist in promoting people to leadership roles based on their aptitude as individual performers – almost certainly a different skills set to what you're going to need. You may be the living embodiment of the Peter Principle, that we’ll all be promoted to our level of incompetence.  

That’s the bad news. But before you hand in your notice and swap the corporate world for the nomadic life of a Deliveroo rider, there is some good news. You’re about to embark on a journey into the very heart of what makes business fascinating. You’ll have a chance to make a bigger difference than you ever could before and, best of all, you’re not going to be alone.

Countless people have gone through the same thing before, and (rather unfortunately) very few of them have been sacked for being crap managers, certainly not when they’re still learning the ropes.

We would say don’t sweat it then, take it easy for a few days and just see what happens, but on second thoughts some preparation would probably be a good idea. Look to your own bosses for ideas about what to do and what to avoid. Listen to those who have gone through it before.

With that in mind, we had a chat with some folks at the top of the management tree for their advice. You don’t get to be CEO without picking up a thing or two about leadership, right?

1. Talk

‘Communicate, communicate, communicate. Beat the same drum a million times – the 1000001st time you’ll still hear people saying I haven’t heard that before,’ says Roger Whiteside, CEO of FTSE 250 firm and legendary steak-bake maker Greggs. ‘And keep it simple. If you’re overly complex and use management speak, they’ll just go, urgh I don’t know what this is about.’

2. Listen

‘It’s much easier becoming a director or managing director than making the transition to first time manager. You need to recognise you’re going to go through it. You also need to listen and learn all the time. Sometimes you naively think you’re the manager so you make the decisions, but it’s really about listening and learning. Then at some point you have to make tough calls, but that’s the minority and not the majority,’ says George Brasher, managing director of HP UK and Ireland.

3. Put yourself in their shoes

‘Everyone who’s ever managed learns this either a day too late or a year too late: by definition no one in the world has your skills set and your motivations. Who you are as an employee is unique, so managing anyone else the way you’d like to be managed is a fool’s errand,’ says Tom Monahan, CEO of billion dollar insights firm CEB. ‘Secondly, know yourself. A lot of manager mistakes come from insufficient self-knowledge. Lyndon B Johnson was a talker, but JFK was a reader. So when LBJ became President, he had a whole staff handing him memos when he just wanted to talk. These are knowable things.’

4. Lift up rather than cast down

‘Praise is important,’ reflects Tom Joule, founder of rural chic fashion firm Joule’s. ‘When you’re busy you can very easily forget to praise people. As soon as I’ve had words, I move on, but other people aren’t necessarily the same as you. You need to be aware of that. If you want to get a point across, sometimes it’s a good idea to think of some good points as well as just talking about the bad ones.’

5. Give back

‘Managing starts quite early, it’s leading that’s difficult. Any time you ask someone to do something you’re managing them. You manage your desk, you manage getting yourself to work. Being a leader’s a responsibility you have to your employees, and you need to take that job seriously. It’s not just about getting results for your company, it’s about getting experiences for your team so they can continue to grow in their career,’ says Angela Brav, European CEO of InterContinental Hotels Group.

6. Empower

‘Take intelligent risks,’ says Josh Graff, who leads LinkedIn in the UK. ‘And empower your employees to take intelligent risks. If you are willing, you have to accept the consequences. Most of the time it will be great, but some of the time it will not be. You have to be equally accepting of the downside as the upside if you’re giving someone that level of autonomy.’ 

Want to get ahead? See what our CEOs had to say about career advice 

Image credit: Tim Gouw/Pexels


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