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5 unspoken rules of being a manager that no one tells you about

August 9, 2018
Borderless Leadership

After many hours of hard work, your employer made you a manager. For the first time in your life, you have several employees reporting to you. You’re excited to make your mark and take your career to the next level. And you should be–your company has recognized that you have leadership potential, and they’re giving you an opportunity to shine.

But like any new responsibilities, it comes with a set of unspoken rules. In fact, there are a few things about the job of a manager you probably never saw coming. Whether you are a natural-born manager, or working toward your first opportunity to lead, the following five points are important to keep in mind.


As a manager, you are either loved or hated, but never ignored. It can be an uncomfortable situation to be in, even if one of your goals is to be more visible to the company leaders and your team. When you are in the spotlight, people are watching you and forming opinions about you. That means they’re reading your words, actions, and gestures more closely than they were before.

To be clear, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. You do not need to change your personality or be a work martyr (in fact, doing so can hurt your performance.) You should, however, acknowledge the impact of your new powers, and see it as an opportunity to define your work culture.

For example, one of the authors of this article, Terra, is a single career mom. On Fridays, she’ll often have to leave for midday elementary school events. When she says to her team, “I’m leaving for Jake’s Halloween party at school, and I’ll be back in two hours,” she is telling them that she values work-life balance and family, and giving them implicit permission to do the same. If she is not upfront about where she needs to be, her team might not realize that it’s acceptable for them to leave work from time to time for family obligations.


You’ll also find that as you become the go-to source for complaints, you’ll hear things you never thought you would. You’ll listen to accounts of workplace dramas, or even allegations against one of your coworkers. You might also find that you’ll receive complaints about subject matters outside of the office. Employees will come to you about their personal troubles–from health issues to breakups.

As a manager, it’s not your job to solve all of your employees’ problems. There may be occasions when it’s appropriate for you to take charge of the situation, but other times you need to direct them elsewhere. The key is understanding which situation warrants what treatment. You might have to use trial and error to gain this insight, but just be aware that whatever actions you take can have a broad impact on the company.


When you start managing people, you’ll distinguish your high performers from your low performers. If you’re not careful, you can spend far too much of your time on the latter. That’s why it’s important to identify whether their issues are a matter of capability, skills, or knowledge–and whether it’s something they can overcome. If you don’t think they can change (and you’ve given them plenty of opportunities to prove themselves), then you should think long and hard about whether you should keep them in your team. After all, the time that you’re spending on fixing that person’s mistake is the time you’re notspending developing (and empowering) your high performers.

However, if you believe that they can improve, think about incorporating “coachable moments” in your day-to-day interactions with them. These are on-the-job situations when you can offer feedback in real time. Mollie, for example, ensures that when she is explaining something to a new employee or a low performer, she can point to what a high performer in her team has done. This way, not only is she giving her star employees the recognition they deserve–she is steering her low performing employees towards becoming a high performer (rather than berating them for their mistakes.)


The job of the manager is to translate strategy into the day-to-day actions of their team. You’ll find yourself consistently reiterating the company’s strategy and goals, and explaining the connection between the two. At first, you think you’re fine with this arrangement; after all, you know the answers! Then one day it happens: no matter how often you’ve repeated the company’s new priorities–someone in your company still doesn’t get it and asks you to explain it for the millionth time.

Unfortunately, this is one job requirement you’ll just have to weather. And just as people will come to you bearing their personal problems, they’ll also ask questions that you might not know the answer to (for example, issues around HR and benefits.) As a manager, you should have enough knowledge of company policy to answer these questions at a high level, but if it’s something beyond your area of expertise–make sure that you direct their queries to someone who knows the answer.


Sometimes, being a manager means holding on to information that no one else can know, which can be isolating. Sometimes it means being at odds with other managers when it comes to resource allocation. And sometimes, you’ll face circumstances you never imagined you’d be in.

You might be tempted to share these information with your employees. That’s what you used to do, after all. But as managers, we know that at times, it’s in everyone’s best interest to keep specific information confidential. If you must talk about it to someone–try to find an external mentor that you trust. That way, you can maintain your composure at work without violating your obligations as a manager.

Being a manager involves a lot more than just taking on more responsibilities–in fact, it’s a whole new job in and of itself. By being aware of these five points, you can have a plan for tackling potential challenges before you face them. Just understand that there might be instances where you don’t get it right the first time, and that’s okay.

By: Mollie Lombardi & Terra Vicario

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