As I’ve shared previously, my rising through the ranks of management happened quickly, abruptly, and, for me, surprisingly. As a creative, introverted psychology major, my life plan included either helping people in a clinical fashion (as in, have a seat on this couch and tell me about your mother) or living in a cabin on a mountaintop writing bestselling novels. So naturally, I ended up in charge of an HR department in a busy, rapidly growing company in a different country from my birthplace. But I digress.

I think most of us expect life to progress along a pre-planned track: Graduate, go to college, graduate college, get a starter job, get promoted, personal stuff, get promoted some more, etc. At least that was what I expected. Of course, we all eventually realize that it’s NEVER like that but not without spending a few years (or decades) wondering if we were doing something horribly wrong because our experience was so different from the plan.

Such were my thoughts when I was thrust somewhat reluctantly into the role of manager for the first time. Because I’m highly competitive and achievement-oriented, I rarely say no to a challenge or advancement opportunity so initially I was quite excited about being asked. But then it sunk in that I had accepted a job I really didn’t know how to do and had never done before. Not only that, it was in a field in which I had zero expertise – Human Resources.

At the time, I was an organizational behavior management consultant – working for a professor emeritus from Notre Dame running projects for him all over North America. HR had never been on my radar, not even a little, but because OBM involves training, development, and performance it sort of made sense that it fell under HR – I guess. I’m not sure why it made sense for ANYONE that that meant I should be in charge of HR (least of all me) but that was the plan.

No sooner did I agree to the promotion when I was informed I needed to perform an investigation of a manager who had been accused of…things…that a manager shouldn’t be doing. Things that involved his administrative assistant. Given the cultural context in which I’m writing this, all I can say is that that allegations were mild compared to what we’re seeing and hearing these days, but at the time it was a big deal. The complainant was upset and the manager much more so, and furthermore he adamantly denied everything.

What I remember most about the incident was frantically Googling how to conduct an investigation. There was no senior leader who had done my role before, and even though I KNEW my boss KNEW that I knew NOTHING about HR, I still thought he’d figure he’d made a mistake if I told him I didn’t know how to handle my first assignment. I went out and bought a mini-cassette recorder to record the interviews and did the best I could. The investigation was a disaster (in my opinion) because everyone had a different story, nothing lined up, and there was no clear evidence one way or the other. It was very unsatisfying to me, who had been expecting an Agatha Christie-like closure to the case. Of course, I was later to learn they’re all like that, but that’s another story.

What most sticks with me after all these years is how scared I was, and how confusing it was to try to find answers to the questions. The fact that everyone believed in me really didn’t help. It was nice and all, but I knew that I didn’t know what I was doing, so their utter confidence in me was a little disappointing. What I would have appreciated more than anything was someone to guide me a little. Not to tell me exactly what to do (because I hate that), but to at least point me in the right direction.

Luckily, I was a quick study, and I’m proud to say we never got into legal trouble on my watch. But that experience started a fire in me to make sure to provide context and structure for people walking after me. That’s why I love mentoring so much, and why I am so passionate about helping first time leaders. I don’t think the employment landscape has changed much since when I first started managing. There’s still not a lot of practical help for newer managers, and a lot more to be done than time to do it in. But it feels good to know I can be helpful.  If you’re interested in hearing more about how I mentor first time managers, you can click here.

And because I just love giving out bonuses, click here for a free link for a basic employee investigation process (just in case you have a ‘handsy’ of your own)

Do you have any horror stories from your first time managing? Do share!

Carrie Maldonado is the founder of Today’s Leadership Solutions, a Seattle-based mentoring and training company committed to equipping managers to overcome the typical tactical, strategic, and personal development challenges facing managers in growing companies. Will a full suite of mentoring, coaching, training, and on-call support available for managers and leaders, we’ve got you covered! For more information, visit our site or contact us for more information about how we help leaders and managers grow.

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