90 Days: You're the New Boss, Now What?

Becoming a manager for the first time is exciting, but it can also be a daunting transition. Here's how to avoid the common new-boss pitfalls.

Being promoted to a management position for the first time is cause to celebrate. But while becoming a boss for the first time brings a lot of excitement and possibility, it can also have its pitfalls, say Marty Nemko, a career coach in Oakland, Calif., and Dr. Karissa Thacker, a management psychologist. You're less likely to fall into the new-boss traps if you ease yourself in, take the time to get to know your employees and be certain about your responsibilities.

Your first 90 days

Absorb rather than demand. Avoid riding in with guns blazing. New managers often try to do too much, too quickly in their first weeks and months on the job. "Think of the first 90 days as a listen and learn opportunity," says Dr. Thacker, president of New York-based consulting firm Strategic Performance Solutions. "Learn who your subordinates are, what drives them, what motivates them."

Find a happy medium. Do what you can to avoid the two most common extremes. Newbie pitfalls range from bossing too much -- using too much force and micromanaging underlings -- to bossing too little -- trying to be everyone's friend, even to people who need firmer limits -- according to Mr. Nemko, author of "Cool Careers for Dummies." Figure out what your management style is and guide it to fall somewhere in between.

Hire the best. If you hire the right people, the business can almost run itself most of the time, and you can sit back and observe. "When in doubt, avoid making rules. Hire the best people and let them do their thing unless there's a problem," says Mr. Nemko. "But let it be known that you're there if there is a problem."

Take an active approach. As much as possible, avoid formal evaluations, and get involved with the day-to-day activities of the office. "Manage by walking about," says Mr. Nemko. In other words: open your office door and get out of your chair.

And when it comes to reviews, stay positive when possible, particularly early on. "Give earned praise frequently, earned criticism tactfully," suggests Mr. Nemko. "If that doesn't work with a bad employee, cut your losses." Dwell too much on a problem employee in the first few months as boss and that employee can bring you down; the situation can easily consume too much of your time and cause you to lose focus on the tasks at hand.

Use your networking skills. "Begin building a network of your peers," says Dr. Thacker. Don't forget to include upper management and subordinates in your network. "Ask advice of the people who have been in the roles for a number of years," she says. It's an opportunity to get to know people and to listen and learn from those around you. Make the most of this honeymoon phase while it lasts -- and before the bottom line expectations fully take over.

Write to Elizabeth Garone at cjeditor@dowjones.com

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