Three people stand in an open office space in a high-ceilinged room with a wall of large windows letting in bright sunlight. Two of the people, men in button-up shirts and dark pants, shake each other's hands while smiling. The third person, an older woman with white hair and glasses, looks on with a smile.
When you're the manager, your employees will take cues from you. A bad mood or abrasive attitude can decrease morale, but respect and hard work can do a world of good. — Getty Images/skynesher

Congrats on your new leadership role at a small business. At times management can feel like a thankless job, but you have the opportunity to drive growth and improve employee experiences. You'll learn plenty about your responsibilities through management training and company onboarding. But what should you know before walking through the doors? Explore five key concepts that can help you overcome obstacles, improve your approach, and make you a more effective first-time manager.

Feedback isn't easy to hear but can improve outcomes

Depending on the company culture, you may hear many opinions on your first day or nothing at all. Regardless, regular, constructive feedback is essential. It can build trust between yourself and your team while helping you become a better manager. However, there's a time and place for it, and you need to set boundaries when you start.

Use a system for ongoing dialogue. Encourage staff to reach out through appropriate channels, such as email, Slack, or weekly meetings. And just because you don't hear anything doesn't mean all is well. Take time to check in with employees to restate your desire for feedback, establish a rapport, and help them feel supported.

Be assertive without appearing abrasive

According to Indeed, "Assertive leadership is a communication style in which people express their thoughts, ideas, and expectations with their teams in a self-assured, considerate way." Moreover, the Mayo Clinic said, "Assertiveness can help you control stress and anger and improve coping skills."

Yet only 19% of Acuity Training survey respondents report being naturally assertive. And others adopt a "my way or the highway" approach, which can result in resentment. It's vital to find a middle ground between being passive and aggressive. Assess your capabilities and consider enrolling in a leadership training program.

[Read more: 5 Outdated Management Techniques to Ditch — And What to Do Instead]

Having a title doesn't mean you know everything

As a first-time manager, you may feel a need to prove yourself or master every duty from day one. The thing is, you're going to make mistakes. Some things you do won't work. And although you have the management title, other employees may have been there longer or have more institutional knowledge.

When the unexpected occurs, your reaction sets the tone in your workplace.

Leadership Development Consultant Sarah Finch told Rasmussen University, "A good manager will know that they don't know everything and will be comfortable letting members of their teams be the experts.” You don't have to shout out about your inexperience, but you can and should own your mistakes, listen to others, and know when to ask for help.

You can make or break team morale

Fierce Inc. said the most important aspect of the manager role is to better relationships, improve engagement, and build emotional capital. Yet far too often, new managers discount the impact of their attitude and leadership style on staff. With a team looking up to you for guidance, your bad day can spread to everyone within minutes. Consequently, "managers account for at least 70% of variance in employee engagement scores across business units," Gallup estimated.

The bottom line is that rudeness can ruin your workplace, and poor leadership can cause good employees to leave, reduce productivity, and cause internal conflict. Learn how to boost staff morale and accomplish business goals by putting your people first.

[Read more: Are You a Good Listener? Your Employees Sure Hope So]

Be proactive and control your reactions

Being proactive means thinking about potential challenges and solutions beforehand. BetterUp said, "Proactive management means anticipating needs and challenges so that you and your team are prepared to overcome them." Yet, the staff writer warns, "No leader or organization can be proactive all the time."

When the unexpected occurs, your reaction sets the tone in your workplace. And there will be moments when you must respond even as employees and customers stare you down. Learn how to control your outward response, recognize potential biases, and know how to put out fires when they occur, even if an extinguisher isn't available.

CO— aims to bring you inspiration from leading respected experts. However, before making any business decision, you should consult a professional who can advise you based on your individual situation.

To stay on top of all the news impacting your small business, go here for all of our latest small business news and updates.

CO—is committed to helping you start, run and grow your small business. Learn more about the benefits of small business membership in the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, here.

A message from
You’re invited to join a private network of CEOs.
Discover how 45,000 CEOs are growing their businesses. Connect with verified companies on a secure private network to find new clients, raise money and find reliable solutions for any business priority.
Learn More
Published December 12, 2022