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31 Oct 5 leaders share lessons for first-time managers

By Steffen Maier 

Good leadership is essential for any successful company, but it’s not always easy for junior or first-time managers to adapt to their role. Many times, leaders look back on their career and have a whole host of new insights and knowledge they wish they’d known all along.

When we started Impraise three years ago, the focus was on the product. As the company grew and we brought more people on board, we faced the challenges of also becoming first time leaders. Managing people for the first time was both challenging and rewarding for us, but it was always helpful hearing from experienced people to understand what helped them progress into becoming the best leaders possible.

With recent failures at companies such as Uber demonstrating the painful consequences of having young leaders who are neither trained or equipped for their roles, we wanted to find out what successful leaders wish they’d known when they began their initial leadership path. We talked with five top leaders to collect their most valuable insights.

Harry West, Frog Design

“In an organization that’s fast moving, with lots of young people, we need to be proactive. We shouldn’t expect people to know how to manage without any training.”

CEO Harry West shares
the things he learned while managing the rapidly growing design company.

During the company’s early days when potential future leaders were trained, there was a lack of knowledge and structure in place concerning the skills required, and a lack of understanding for how these skills should be developed. The company now has in place a management training program to ensure these things are addressed before young leaders are put in charge of teams. Reflecting on Frog Design’s earlier practices, West muses this random, unstructured approach to systemic training was not good enough for the fast moving, young tech company. West soon began reshaping their training process to become more systematic, ensuring young leaders enter their positions equipped and confident.

Martin Jellema, Werkspot

“One of the most important elements is the people themselves.”

Martin Jellema, Werkspot & Instapro’s chief commercial officer, responsible for a 70+ team, shares the top three lessons he has learned since he began managing.

Jellema maintains that, after all his years of managing people, one of the most important elements is the people themselves. Finding and recruiting candidates that fit the company and can handle every aspect of the role remains one of the most important aspects of managing.

In addition, Jellema believes finding someone who asks for help when it’s needed is the second most important quality. He now values collaboration more than the desire to perform flawlessly and independently. It’s ultimately more useful to discuss issues and allow people to help you discover solutions you wouldn’t think of by yourself. In Jellema’s experience, both your boss and your team will see you reaching out for help as a strength, not a weakness. Understanding that something needs to be done or changed, and using available resources to make that positive change, won’t be frowned upon. You have a great team around you for a reason. Use their knowledge and skills! He also outlines the importance of maintaining focus on ‘high leverage’ activities. Rather than taking time on minor activities, delegate and dedicate the time to things like team training which increases productivity.

Bob Kastner, Meeting Tomorrow

“If you have great team members, and you get them energized by a great scoreboard, then you’ll be unstoppable.”

Bob Kastner, director of marketing at Meeting Tomorrow, shares the one thing he wishes he knew as a junior manager: how useful scoreboards are when it comes to keeping the team engaged, energized, and on track.

Kaster says things should be easy to read at a glance. People should be able to tell what’s going on by looking at a few, important metrics that are essential to productivity. Kaster’s next must-do for these metrics is to keep them constant, update the board as often as possible, keep information relevant and updated in real-time on the display, and ensure key information is in the forefront of people’s minds by discussing them regularly in team meetings or daily stand ups.

You can decide whether to create a competitive, friendly vibe, and see who tops the scoreboard, or you can create a collective vibe and monitor how close the team is to hitting goals. Kaster has learned to put this focus on striving for more motivating ‘best’ results rather than encouraging people to beat averages, always celebrating these successes as a team when they occur.

Brett Remington, Wisconsin Centre
for Performance Excellence

“Trust holds everything together. It takes huge amounts of time to accumulate. As a manager, your success depends on the preservation and enhancement of trust.”

We spoke to Brett Remington, of the Wisconsin Centre for Performance Excellence,  and he outlined the things he learned (his experience based ‘truths of management’).

Remington first learned the importance of trust and fostering good relationships with those around him. He learned to see managers as administrative functions, believing that, “if you’re going into management because you want to change the face of what’s possible in your organization, you are applying for the wrong job.” Remington’s second lesson was that it’s essential to have a curiosity about the processes your team uses. You could have a great team, but if the processes being followed are ineffective, they’re going to be disengaged and unsuccessful.

Remington believes attempting to stay on top of more than five performance measures will result in fewer accomplishments while focusing on fewer than three metrics means you’ll likely miss opportunities for continuous improvement and innovation.

“You are only about two-thirds as good at your job as you think. The one-third you don’t know about, don’t believe, or don’t pay attention to is going to determine how long you’ve got left in this job. Find ways of eliminating blind spots and practice humility. Eventually, you may find that your role as manager is vastly different than when you started. People, processes, policies and potentials change. Know when the accumulated changes no longer fit with your skills, aspirations or interests. When that time comes, be ready to change out of your manager role and reflect on what you have accomplished as you pursue a better future for yourself.”

Barry Curry, Systeme

“Most importantly, learning how to react and behave when you are out of your comfort zone will better prepare you for being out of it.”

Barry Curry, technical director at Systeme, also emphasizes the necessity of positive feedback, recognition and acknowledging your team members for their accomplishments.

Curry’s first leadership pointer is keeping sight of the big picture. It can be easy to get drawn into the small details: stay focused on key details and don’t take things personally. If things become heated during stressful projects or periods, it’s okay to let people vent. Acknowledge people’s perspectives, never make responses personal and keep things respectful with co-workers and clients alike.

To ensure problem-solving for others doesn’t totally overtake your other responsibilities, Curry suggests using goals to give what you’re doing direction. This ensures that problem-solving for others doesn’t totally overtake your other responsibilities. He also suggests resisting the temptation of constantly checking your emails. Instead, begin your day by completing one daily task you’ve scheduled for yourself to complete without any distractions from others.

He also advises thinking about solutions before you share a problem with someone else. This will demonstrate you’ve considered the problem thoroughly, which will instill confidence in you. Similarly, having a consistent process in place for when unplanned or unexpected events arise is key.

Steffen Maier is a co-founder of Impraise, a web-based and mobile solution for actionable, timely feedback at work. Based in New York and Amsterdam, Impraise turns tedious annual performance reviews into an easy process by enabling users to give and receive valuable feedback in real-time and when it’s most helpful. The tool includes an extensive analytics platform to analyze key strengths and predict talent gaps and coaching needs.


Steffen Maier is a co-founder of Impraise, a web-based and mobile solution for actionable, timely feedback at work. Based in New York and Amsterdam, Impraise turns tedious annual performance reviews into an easy process by enabling users to give and receive valuable feedback in real-time and when it’s most helpful. The tool includes an extensive analytics platform to analyze key strengths and predict talent gaps and coaching needs.

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