12 Rules for New Managers – #1: Keep Your Eye on the Ball

There are 12 things I wish someone had told me when I first became a manager at the young and impressionable age of 20. It would have made the next few years a lot easier.

The bright side is, I learned those 12 lessons for myself, inside and out. And over the next 12 Mondays, I get to pay those lessons forward in a little crash course: 12 Rules for New Managers.

If you know any first-time managers, or seasoned managers looking to re-focus and revitalize their leadership, please share!

Rule #1: Keep Your Eye on the Ball

If you’ve been a manager for any length of time, I know you can relate. Whether you’re managing projects, a team, customer relationships–the same 3 things will burn you out if you let them: Hurt, distraction, and overwhelming details.

Hurt: You are going to be criticized and pushed around. No matter how progressively you go about it, your job will still include pushing things around and calling shots. That’s not going to make you popular with everybody. When people aren’t happy, the manager will get blamed. When results are missing, the manager will get blamed. That was one of the toughest things for me about management. I had no idea just how much emotional and verbal abuse could be directed at one person. And it’s almost always the manager.

Distraction: Just as inevitable as offense, distraction can quickly become your entire life as a manager. Paperwork, voicemail, inbox, post-it notes. Goodness, post-it notes! Those can quickly drive the most productive person insane. Nobody else on the team has your special job description: Managing. Keeping things organized and running. But nobody else gets more distractions and superfluous junk thrown at them, either. One of the hardest tasks of the manager is also at the very heart of their job: Staying focused.

Overwhelming details: Your team has lots of specialists. In fact, you might be the only one on the team who is not supposed to be a technical specialist. Your job is to facilitate the work of a bunch of other people who are doing the details. As a manager, though, it’s hard not to get caught up in the details and lose sight of the big picture. Especially when you’re being held responsible for a project or team as a whole, it’s hard to let go of the details, so you can see the entire forest instead of just a few trees. But if you don’t–if you instead let those details overwhelm your vision–if you focus narrowly on a few specifics–the rest of your project and team will fall apart before you even notice.

Hurt and discouragement, countless distractions, and detail after narrow detail. They threaten to completely overwhelm you as a manager, leaving you burnt out with no results. So what’s the solution?

Your first rule as a manager is to keep your eye on the ball. Remind yourself, every single day, what you’re being paid to do.

When unhappy people and miscommunication are discouraging you, keep your eye on the ball! Comfort and acceptance are not always in your job description. Sometimes you have to let insults and criticism roll right off your back. If you stay focused on what your real goals are, you’ll be able to beat the discouragement, developing mental toughness instead.

When too much noise and stuff are threatening to steal your time and swallow your life, keep your eye on the ball! Prioritize. You might have to have a talk with the team or your own boss. Your job cannot be to pick up little pieces all day. When you try to field every play, answer every question, work every station, your productivity comes to a screeching halt. If instead you stay absolutely focused on the results you’re seeking and the exact tasks that will most strategically accomplish them, that focus will beat the distraction and your productivity will soar.

Finally, when you feel yourself getting lost in the details, keep your eye on the ball! Take a step back and look at the big picture. Grab a notebook and re-organize your thoughts, tasks, and goals. You manage a team, not a corner. You manage a project, not a detail. Instead of losing the forest for the trees, you can develop the ability to see big picture, regain a little sanity, and get back to being a real manager.

Keeping focused was one of the most important lessons I learned as a manager. I found that both my productivity and my own personal life were affected in big ways by my ability (or lack thereof) to stay focused on the big picture.

Takeaway: The very nature of a manager’s job tends towards personal discouragement and offense, distraction, and narrow-sightedness (or tunnel vision). If you want to stay sane and productive, it is vital to stay focused in the face of all of that. Build mental toughness and a little thick skin. Be able to say no to distractions. See big picture. Keep your eye on the ball!

What helps you stay focused on your real work as a manager?

Author: Peter Elbridge

I have a passion for helping others, and that is why I write. I believe that sharing our experiences and discoveries in life is the best way to make a difference. After all, we're all in this together. (My opinions and endorsements are my own and do not represent my employer.)

4 thoughts on “12 Rules for New Managers – #1: Keep Your Eye on the Ball”

  1. As a manager, I directly relate to so much of this. One of my biggest areas of opportunity is definitely managing time and making time. But recently we have had a lot of issues with our crew and I have been the manager to step up and be the bad guy. So I am quickly learning just how much it can suck to be the one everyone hates AND the one everyone blames. I am glad you posted this. It is spot on.


    1. Hey, I’m really glad the post was encouraging to you! It’s true. I can relate to what you say, too–been there before. There are times as a manager, especially in faster-pace places, and especially in industries like hospitality and retail, when all you can think is, “Why did I sign up for this???” It’s at those moments that I have to remind myself to keep my eye on the ball, stay focused on why I’m really there.


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