Afraid to Fail as a First-Time Manager: Embrace the Feeling

Failure is something most people dread facing. Being afraid of failing at something is natural, but it can quickly become crippling if you let it control you. 

Wouldn’t it be great if you could push that fear away when you’re managing a team for the first time?

In this article, we’ll address these matters:

  • Is the fear of failure felt all the time?
  • The reasons why you’re afraid to fail as an inexperienced manager.
  • The steps you can take to move past this fear.
  • Five tips to build yourself as a manager.

I’ll be the first to admit it. 

During my first weeks as a manager, my fear of not being the right person for the job only matched my excitement about the road ahead. 

This was because I simply didn’t know what I should do, when I should do it, and how soon I should become an independent leader. I wanted to be what others expected of me as soon as possible.

Not knowing things intensify fear and uncertainty, wouldn’t you agree?

We’re going to talk about why the fear of failing as a first-time manager exists and the steps we can take to overcome it.

I believe that having a clearer picture of what’s coming helps you in your journey.

Is this fear of failure temporary?

If you’re in your first months as a manager, you may experience dry mouth before talking to your team about something important and cold sweats before your monthly meetings at “the roundtable”. 

Why is that?  

If you think about it, fear is at its peak just before the event. It’s the waiting time before riding the biggest roller coaster of your life.

Once the ride is over, fear vanishes like it was never there. It’s replaced by excitement and a sense of fulfillment. 

And then you want to go again! 

It’s the same in professional life too. When the meeting is over, you won’t even remember how it felt to be afraid about a certain thing that was living only in your head. 

The meeting itself can be part of the “cure” because it will shift your attention to the new challenges that await you afterward.

After 2-3 years pass, you won’t even think about what you’re worried about now. The challenges you’ll face then will be beyond that. The fear of failure is temporary because the issues you’re facing at the moment will come to pass.

Let’s talk about why you’re holding yourself back as a manager when starting out.

You think you’re not good enough for the job

A common mistake is to think of yourself as a rookie and believe that you’re not up for the challenge. It’s a direct result of having low confidence in your management skills. 

It’s completely normal at first, but it’s up to you to get rid of this mentality and prove your worthiness (to yourself, first and foremost).

Let’s break it down. Is this about your education?

If you didn’t study business management, I would suggest not to worry at this point.

Yes, you’re behind in theory and concepts, but the fact that you got a management position now is a golden opportunity. This is your chance to learn the ropes by working every day with actual people and dealing with real situations. 

Do I need a higher education degree to be a manager?

Not every successful manager has higher education. I have colleagues who are excellent managers and didn’t take a single management class in school. I’m not saying you should ignore this and get comfortable. 

Your level of education depends on the decisions you make, every single day.

As a manager, you always have to better yourself and feed your brain with more information to help you face new challenges.

The fact you’re reading these lines means that you have the right mindset. And I hope you come back for more.

You can always search for courses, seminars, books and talk with other managers about what they’re doing to better themselves. 

Are bad days demoralizing for a junior manager?

It doesn’t matter if you’re new to the job or have a lot of experience. Everybody has bad days, bad meetings, or subpar interactions with others. 

Anyone can break at any time, but attitude is what gets us out of it.

When you have negative experiences as a new manager, it can be easy to think accepting the job was a bad move. I’m referring especially to the first critical months when you’re still discovering your style, your role in the company.

How can we define a bad day for a manager? If you think about it, a bad day contains a series of unfortunate events that come to a boiling point (at least, in your perception). Some of them are out of your reach, but the way you look at things is what makes you think if that’s a bad day or not.

What helps me move past the negative feelings is to take a 10-minute break and analyze the situation. You’ll then realize it comes down to a few specific situations:

  • It was something you did (or didn’t do)
  • Someone else caused you to doubt yourself or change your emotional state
  • Your team is going through something you feel you can’t help them with

Once you identify the source of the problem, it’s easier to take the next steps.

The first thing I like to do is to self-analyze my core functions (like a Terminator):

  • Am I well rested or tired? Did I get enough sleep?
  • Am I hungry? We all know that Snickers commercial.
  • Do I need more coffee? Or maybe less…?
  • I’m sure you can add some more things to this list. After all, nobody knows your body and mind better than yourself.

No matter what happened on a bad day, you don’t give up. You need to remind yourself of the countless circumstances when you made progress and moved past difficult situations. 

There is no reason to doubt yourself to the point of quitting. Remember that somebody offered it to you when you accepted the job. They’ve put trust in you because they saw potential, and now it’s up to you to deliver on that. We’ll talk more about this in this article.

Not knowing what to expect from a management position

Depending on your personality, the unknown excites you, scares you, or a little bit of both.

If you’re like me, you know that theory teaches you very little about the way reality hits you in the face. Some things you have to experience first hand to understand them.

If the thought of being a manager scares you sometimes, good! Turn fear into excitement!

Being afraid is okay as long as you change it into something productive.

If you can’t wait to see where you’ll fail next, great! It means you’ve embraced the fact you still have a lot to learn.

I’m not saying you should seek failure on purpose. I’m just saying you will fail, but the attitude you adopt when that happens makes all the difference in the world.

Everyone is different, and I can’t tell you exactly where you’ll excel and where you still have a lot of work to do. Only you can be true to yourself. What I know is that I can learn from what others go through and apply it to my situations. I’m hoping this will inspire you as well.

One reason I created this blog was to guide junior managers and talk about real life in plain terms. I’m trying to combine my personal experiences with mentor-like lessons I’ve gathered over the years and share them with you.

The fear of disappointing people

Nobody wants to let down the people who trust them. If you feel this, that means you’re a caring person and take the responsibility you were given seriously. It also means you have a strong incentive to better yourself.

At the same time, people tend to forget the problems others are having and focus on their own. Think about it. When’s the last time somebody lost sleep over your problems?

The only person you should worry about disappointing is yourself. Use this to propel you forward, not worry yourself to a standstill.

As long as you’re fair and kind to others and keep developing your leadership style, you don’t need to think about disappointment. It will all flow naturally from there.

How can new managers move past the fear of failure?

Let me be clear. Some of your fears are valid. There’s no such thing as a perfect employee or a spotless high-performer.

But while everyone is talking about having success and sipping mojitos on the beach, I’m here to tell you it takes time, effort, and lots of failures to get there.

A junior manager like yourself needs to experience making mistakes to know what success is. It’s impossible to do it in any other way. The best approach to fight fear is to embrace it. Learn to expect the unexpected. 

So what should you know moving forward? What helps you push through no matter what happens? 

The responsibility of leading your team

“They want me to be a manager and a leader too!?” 

Throughout this blog, you’ll find that the words “manager” and “leader” are interchangeable. Even though the semantics serve different purposes, when we are speaking of management I strongly believe you can’t separate the two.

As a manager, you have to lead others whether or not you’re aware of it. Besides sleeping, this will be your greatest source of energy.

“How can I lead them without experience?”

If you haven’t established authority yet, no need to worry. In time, your team members will look up to you as long as you pay attention to their needs and act accordingly. This is the most important thing you can do in the beginning.

For me, the 1-on-1 sessions are powerful incentives to take action and bring a positive change for the team members, while building authority.

Most people think that only managers give feedback during those meetings. They’re wrong.

It’s your chance as a manager to receive real feedback and establish personal, genuine relationships with others. Employees don’t usually offer you feedback unless you ask for it. Make sure you set time aside to know about how they perceive your actions and find out how you can better serve them.

I know others depend on me to make their work-life a little better every day. This is one of my primary motivators. This job is one of the best out there because you get to help others while improving yourself. 

A fearless manager is an outstanding leader at the same time. You should never be afraid to explore this side of yourself, even if you don’t have experience. It may come naturally for you to express your leadership skills, but we all need to constantly improve them.

When you’re with your team, you are never alone.

You don’t believe me? In this video, Arnold says it best:

I’ve dedicated an entire section of this blog to leadership because there are many topics to address. Feel free to explore.

Focus on bettering yourself

To coach and lead others, you need to have your fundamentals rock solid. I’ve seen many managers fail hard because they tried to be someone they were not (yet).

How can you focus on yourself when there are so many external factors that disturb you?

You need to integrate self-discipline into your work and become intentional in bettering yourself every day. Actively allocating time to study yourself is crucial when you want to improve.

Think about it like this.

As a manager, you always look at some numbers for the company you’re working with. If it’s sales, you always check the target set for that month. If it’s product development, you always try to beat the deadlines.

So why not watch over the KPI of the most important asset you have? If you don’t, how else would you track your progress? If something bad happens, would you like your first reactions from today to be the same one year from now?

Take time to study yourself and be consistent about it. Don’t wait for your manager to criticize you before you do it yourself. Of course, the purpose is to learn from it, not to bring yourself down.

Build the relationship with your manager

One of the fastest ways to progress is to observe your manager in different situations. Get close to them and be inspired.

How do they handle a not-so-ideal situation? What’s the first thing they do?

What about when things go great? What’s their course of action?

When you get the chance, ask for 15 minutes of their time. Ask them questions. You can learn so much from others when you open your mind. I promise they will not judge you, no matter how simplistic the questions sound.

Oftentimes, managers become mentors for the people they manage. In time, you’ll begin mentoring and coaching people from your own team. 

You can also start looking around for other people you identify with. Your management style will be influenced by more than just one person. My suggestion is to take the good things you find in every person you admire (and leave out the bad). 

Use the responsibility you were given

Your role gives you a lot more power than you currently think. You can use it to optimize the way you’re doing things every day.

Ask for training on topics you feel you can improve on. Your company will be supportive and provide resources for you. 

Get feedback from your coworkers. As I said before, you can receive very useful information when asking your team members to give you an outside perspective. 

Even if you’re responsible for everything that’s happening in your department, you don’t have to do all the work. Delegate tasks and keep an eye out for the outcomes. For inexperienced managers, this 

Five tips for junior managers when getting started

  1. Always be true to yourself and kind to others. People easily sense deception and insincerity. Be proud when you’re right and admit when you’re wrong.
  2. Stop worrying about things you can’t control. Focus on what you can actively work on improving. 
  3. Build your confidence levels. With time, your trust in yourself will grow with every little victory you get. Strive to get as many victories as possible, while acknowledging the failures. Giving attention to both will give you great progress.
  4. Keep your ego in check. I’m sure you’ve seen managers who fake confidence and think highly of themselves but provide very little value to the team. Staying humble and empathetic to your environment is key to replacing the fear of failure with genuine curiosity and an open mind.
  5. Your lack of experience is not a weakness. It’s your opportunity to fill your brain with knowledge and start taking action. Be a professional and deliver on what’s expected of you.

Key takeaways

It’s a fact that you will fail in some aspects, sometimes. It’s how we learn to be better.

You won’t know what success is unless you experience failure. 

Embrace the fear, turn it into excitement and use it to develop yourself.

Preparing for what’s next is a great way to dissipate fear. Learn, listen, adapt. 

What is your worst fear? What are the steps you’re going to actively take to eliminate it?

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