A story for first-time manager

A story for first-time manager

🔙 The Manager Playbook

“I am an awful manager”

That’s what I told myself 2 months after becoming a manager for the first time.

I had started a new job in a startup. I had never managed before, or worked in a startup, for that matter. The task was to manage one person. What could go wrong?

I do believe that everybody can grow and that I can help them. Ever since high school, I have shown to be resourceful and adaptable. My colleagues found those skills useful and I collaborated pretty well with everyone.

On a breezy summer morning, in a funky office in Paris, my adaptation skills found a wall and slammed into it. I lost my nerves and yelled at my (only) team member.


What had happened is that Emma (not her real name) had moved into a new role and she was not given any choice about it. That happened before I joined. Then I arrived — a brand new manager, from the outside, who knew nothing about the technical subject, and who was a manager for the first time. She felt neglected. And she was furious. With the company and with anyone in her hierarchy.

Her attitude was not exemplary — she slammed doors, puffed during meetings, and gossiped with her colleagues. Classical destructive behaviour of a demotivated employee who felt betrayed. But she had a point — the company didn’t show any care about her fulfilment.

And I had to deal with it. Although, I had no idea what to do.

As a first time manager, I had the energy, the drive. I had read plenty of books, and articles… I had managed projects with different personalities, in different countries. But this was the first time someone was expressing all their suppressed anger at me.

I felt blocked, empty, paralysed — I had no idea what I should do and not do.

To make matters more interesting, my hiring manager was in maternity leave and I had full autonomy over my scope and my team. I simply wasn't ready for this autonomy. Fortunately, a colleague extended a hand when he saw that the wall I was facing was huge. He let me express myself, be weak, he didn’t judge when I cried my eyes out in a restaurant in the middle of Paris.

He was there to help. And he gave me plenty of useful advice from his managerial experience.

As a result, I opened a sincere conversation with Emma and we put all cards on the table with the options in front of us. I showed her I am there to help but also that it’s a two-way street. Caring but also staying firm and asking for reciprocity.

Eventually, she left the company and I could refocus my energy.

Today, I make sure that team communication is transparent, honest, and regular. I am there to listen and understand the personal story of each one of my team members, if they want to share it. I respect their ways, I share my rules, and we make sure that there is a match in the way we function.

I still have plenty to learn about leading teams and managing humans.

But if there is one thing I can encourage you to do to be a better manager, make sure there is open communication.

A caring, honest, and regular communication.

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