should I bring in cupcakes for the staff on my first day as a manager?

A reader writes:

I am a young (25) woman who has just been promoted into a mid-level management position, managing about 25 staff. This is my first “kick at the can” in management, and while I am very confident going into the new role, I naturally have some nerves about the huge change in my career.

The team I am joining is a very tight-knit group of people, many of whom have worked together a long time. I am wondering it would be appropriate to bring in some kind of treat, say cupcakes, on the first day as a warm gesture or greeting.

This is not something I plan on doing on a regular basis unless it is appropriate, such as for a reward for achieving a goal or celebration of some kind. I would just like to do something nice for the staff coming into the role but I certainly do not want to be taken for a ‘softy’ given the first impression. What do you think?

Don’t do it.

It’s a nice thought, but there are two strong reasons not to do it:

1. First, you’re young and you’re walking into your first management role. That’s a hard spot to be in. Management is hard. Really hard. Your job right now is to establish yourself as a credible manager — not as a maternal figure or a friend. That doesn’t mean that you need to go to the other extreme and be a stony-faced martinet (in fact, you absolutely should not be; you should just be a normal person), but this staff doesn’t know you yet and you don’t want the first impression you create to be … well, fluff.

Here’s the thing: Some young women have trouble being taken seriously at work, particularly when they’re young managers walking into an already established staff. (Some men do too, but it’s especially common with young women, although certainly not nearly to the extent that it used to be.) The best way to deal with that is to do awesome work while being professional, calm, direct, and assertive.

But while you’re working on that, it’s often a good idea not to fall into stereotypically “feminine” roles within the office — always getting the coffee for meetings, doing everyone’s dishes in the office kitchen, organizing office parties, etc. Get yourself taken seriously for your skills first. Once you’re taken seriously, sure, bring in cupcakes — but get your foundation down first.

Which means that you shouldn’t muddy the waters with baking on your first day. Save it for when you’ve established yourself as a good manager.

2. Second, you risk sending another wrong signal to a staff that’s already probably somewhat apprehensive about getting a new manager: You risk creating an impression that you place more emphasis on fluff than you do on managing well. Because really, few people feel a burning need to get cupcakes from their manager. What they do want are far more important things: clear goals, useful and direct feedback, the resources they need to do their jobs well,  good pay and benefits, an understanding that they have lives outside of work, and so forth.

That’s the stuff they’re going to be watching you to see if you can offer them. Not cupcakes.

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