Bill Gentry is a first-time manager. He also is a researcher who has studied the difficulties people new to management face, and through his work at the Center for Creative Leadership, has trained new managers. "The biggest thing is that what made you a successful individual contributor won't work now that you lead others," he said in an interview.
That means first-time managers in your organization need your help. You can't just throw them into the new job and expect them to succeed because they have been top-flight before. Unfortunately, almost 60 per cent of managers say they never received any training when they transitioned into their first leadership role.
You need to be honest about the challenges, so they aren't surprised when things don't go smoothly and don't feel they are the only person who has ever struggled with the transition. You also need to tell them they are supported – and show it. The Center's research shows that when people feel backed by their supervisors and organization, they have higher job satisfaction, higher commitment to the organization, and are less likely to want to leave.
Three leadership challenges predominate:
1. Asserting authority
Fifty-nine per cent of managers cite this difficulty, as they struggle to establish or assert their new authority. "You are going from BFF to boss and it's a big challenge. You can't have the same relationship with your colleagues," he said. You may be able to keep the friendships, but they'll be different or you may even lose them.
2. Developing managerial effectiveness
The new manager will be concerned with being an effective leader but at the same time needs to be productive at their own work, which often must be maintained at this initial supervisory post. Forty-six per cent of those surveyed highlighted this issue. "We need as managers to figure out time when we can do our own work and also when to be doing coaching and performance appraisals and other managerial tasks," he said.
3. Leading team achievement
Before, you just led yourself. Now you must lead others, forging team chemistry, and 43 per cent signalled their difficulty adjusting to this challenge. This can be particularly demanding when directions, goals or expectations are unclear.
In a research paper and during the interview, Mr. Gentry offered advice on handling each of those problems. In establishing your role as a new manager, you must be clear and direct, setting the tone for how you will deal with your new subordinates.
First, acknowledge to yourself that the relationship with former peers must change. Then meet with them, and talk openly about the new situation. In particular, you have to ensure your relationship with people you are close with won't lead to accusations you are favouring them as the new boss. "Be clear and firm. Ask how you can work together so that they are treated fairly and others see the treatment as fair," he advised in the interview. "Be prepared that the friendship may end."
As soon as the promotion is made, the new manager should set up a meeting with each direct report to focus on that individual's needs and motivations, learning what each likes about his work, how each likes to be led and whatever concerns exist. The new manager will also want to outline his vision for the future, but learning about his or her followers comes first.
Supervisors of first-time managers can also help them with developing managerial and personal effectiveness. Work closely with them to set specific, measurable goals. Encourage them to maintain an overall list of responsibilities and active projects for their entire team. That list can help them to see the bigger picture. Get them to think about how often they should be holding one-on-one meetings with their team members. And finally, encourage them to use one calendar for work and all their other activities instead of maintaining separate calendars for different spheres, which leads to confusion. That sounds elementary but he says a surprising number of people run into trouble on this score.
As for leading team achievement, he preaches an approach known as DAC, for direction, alignment and commitment. The manager must tell subordinates the vision and check that everyone knows their role and the role of their colleagues in reaching that goal. Then, through those one-on-ones, the manager must understand what motivates each individual and how to apply that to attaining their goals. As well, the first-time managers should be saying "together" a lot – using that term improves productivity – and dealing with conflict as soon as it arises.
First-time managers can gain support through what are known as "circles," having all the rookie supervisors in an organization meeting regularly to share the issues confronting them. If a more senior manager can attend those sessions, as mentor, that's even better.
First-time managers usually oversee the most people in an organization. Hoping they'll be successful is not a strategy. When you promote them, you need to wisely support them.
Harvey Schachter is a Kingston, Ont.-based writer specializing in management issues. He writes Monday Morning Manager and management book reviews for the print edition of Report on Business and an online work-life column, Balance. E-mail Harvey Schachter