The jump from the role of individual contributor to a first-time manager is one of the most dramatic and most challenging leaps one can make. It requires a complete shift in how you see your role and in how you deliver results. And unfortunately, most new managers are ill-prepared.
Typically organizations promote their high performers into the role of manager. But just because someone is great at getting the job done doesn’t mean they know how to work through others to get the job done. The skills that served you as an individual are not the same ones you need to be a good manager.
According to a study published by the Corporate Executive Board Company, nearly 60% of first-time managers underperform during their first two years. And they are frustrated and unhappy in their role – more than 50% reported they would rather not manage people.
Why the Jump to First-Time Manager is So Difficult
I recently had the pleasure of catching up with my good friend and co-author of Full Steam Ahead: Unleash the Power of Vision, Ken Blanchard. Ken told me their research shows that the role of first-time manager is so difficult because they must contend with three new realities.
The first new reality: First-time managers must shift from being responsible only for their own work to managing the work of others, as well. As a manager, they need to work with their staff to set performance goals and then manage that performance along the way. This can be especially challenging when dealing with someone who is underperforming.
The second new reality: It can be emotionally challenging to manage a group of former peers who are now direct reports. Some new managers report suddenly being unfollowed on social media or not invited to lunches or other group activities. This can make a new manager feel alone and unsupported.
The third new reality: Not only are they responsible for helping their own team succeed, they now also play a role in the overall success of the organization. They must manage new relationships, both with their people and with other leaders in the company. And they now serve two groups—their direct reports as well as their own leader.
A Huge Shift Without Support
Most organizations don’t understand the magnitude of the shift they are asking people to make when they promote them into a management position for the first time, and therefore don’t provide the kind of support needed to ensure success. Blanchard found that 47% of new supervisors receive no training!
No wonder so many first-time managers are miserable. They are thrown in a new role, asked to make a shift they don’t understand, and are not given support.
What Can You Do?
Read and share the article: Six Tips to Help First-Time Managers Start Off Right.
If your boss is a new manager, cut him or her some slack. Recognize that new managers are struggling and are going to be making a lot of mistakes. You can make it easier for everyone if you let go of the things that don’t really matter, speak directly with them about the things that do matter, and don’t complain about them behind their backs.
If you are a new manager, recognize you are going to make mistakes, and be prepared to apologize when you cause problems for your direct reports. “I’m sorry” goes a long way. Don’t try to figure this out by yourself. There are some excellent resources available. Ask your boss for help, read books like The New One Minute Manager, and ask about training in supervisory skills.
If you manage new managers and your company is one of the 53% that doesn’t offer training, consider establishing a program in your company. Ken Blanchard’s First-Time Manager Program looks like excellent program, and I would expect it to be of the same high caliber as all of their other programs.
This is a significant issue — and a startling one — given how long this problem has been around (forever). Not long ago I was contacted by a new manager making an extraordinary amount of money for her technical skills who’d been promoted without training or guidance into a managerial role. The company is global and a household word. She felt embarrassed that she didn’t know the basics of supervision, what books to read, where to go for help, and she worried that advertising her needs to others, such as her boss, would negatively affect her reputation. While her organization provided some “leadership” training, it was more appropriate to higher level personal development, not the basics, like delegation, how to conduct a performance appraisal, how to manage work assignments, and so on. Your advice is spot on, and I would add that in some cases it may be useful to consider paying for your own training through a coach who works nights or week-ends, and forming your own private support group.
Well said, Dan. I find it hard to understand why companies don’t invest more in those who are closest to the customer. Frontline managers have a huge impact on not only the company, but are also close to the customer. It’s like throwing someone into the water and expecting them to figure out how to swim on their own.
This problem is definitely one of the most frequent ones that I encountered as the CEO of a human service agency. I decided it was so important that I would teach the supervisory training series myself. That way I both met the leaders of the future but also was able to pass on the the skills and values that are so important to success.
So smart! Thanks for sharing this, Betsy. I hope others will read this and pass your idea on.
I am working as teacher on one of the public schools in my country and i surely have managers. I have never been exposed to training of any sort and personally came to find out that most managers avoid this exposure as to hide their managerial weaknesses before their subordinates. This brings more harms to both individuals and the institutions concerned!
Thanks for showing how it applies in education, Emmanuel. Many people don’t recognize that this issue and other issues of leadership and teamwork apply in all types of settings.
Shame on the ‘nameless, fictitious organization in your post… A few thoughts:
(1) Why first-time MANAGERS? Should be selecting LEADERS! That alone will ease some of the difficulties.
(2) Why wouldn’t you have professional development, retreats, or ‘EdCamps’ (to use an education term) to encourage and enhance the leadership qualities of all employees? There is a leadership role for everyone to optimize organizational success.
(3) Seems obvious to me that expecting leadership thinking for all would make the choice of group leader easier and more obvious / less contentious for the group.
(4) with previous help for all, still need some support for the new leader. Clearly, some help with the expected format of ‘business procedures’ and status updates is critical. I’d also suggest a regular facilitated ‘questions and concerns’ session for new group leaders.
Not to upset you, Jesse, Ken, or anyone else, my emphasis on leader and not manager is NOT the title used. I like the following distinction ‘taken’ from someone: “Leaders do the right things, managers do things right.” In other words, leaders organize and facilitate efforts with their group while managers do things the ‘accepted way’ or ‘the way we’ve always done it’ or ‘the way I was told to do it.’
Use whatever title you wish – just lead instead of manage!!! I see evidence of this being your and Ken’s thinking within this particular post!!!
Much thanks for your thoughts, Jon. You raise good points about the idea of what’s behind our concept of leadership and management. Language is important, and here I was focusing on titles, not actions of people in these positions.
This is spot on. I was promoted a year and a half ago, and was told my job really wasn’t changing that much. Probably an excuse not to pay me much more. As a result, I didn’t ask for a big enough raise (10% clearly wasn’t enough) and now I’m stuck. I did hire a management consultant who helped me for a year (at the company’s expense), but it still isn’t a good fit for me and my boss doesn’t communicate. I went back after a year in the role to ask for the money I deserved and my boss used delay tactics for months and finally told me it wasn’t happening due to budget constraints. It’s also obvious management doesn’t view me as an equal, as I’m not involved in some of the regular management meetings. Bottom line for me is I need to find a new opportunity to 1. Get paid what I’m worth, and 2. Get away from managing people.
Sorry to hear that, Jeff. It sounds like a tough situation. Even though managing people might not be right for you in this situation, doesn’t mean you weren’t cut out to be a manager. It’s just one situation. But it does help to get training. Read books (like Leadership and the One Minute Manager), blogs and consider training. I especially recommend the Blanchard Situational Leadership model.
Be aware of the Peter Principle. Just because you succeed at the lower ranks doesn’t mean you will find success at higher levels. This transition can be challenging when making the shift internally.
Indeed. I think the shift is more challenging when making the shift internally because you need to renegotiate your current relationships.
The issue for me has been more about a lack of direction from
upper management, as well as defining expectations. There’s just no leadership, which results in frustration.
Another huge source of frustration that undermines performance at the frontline!
Well the time of this post couldn’t have been better for me. I’m going to be in a new manager role in the coming few month but on a different group than the one I’m working with (in fact it would be on a different section. I’ve been with IT for 14 years and now I’m asked to lead in a marketing department).
I’m looking forward to it but deep inside I’m terrified of how am I going to hand such diversity that is not only inline with my experience over the year but with totally different people that I have no clue about the mini culture they’ve been having.
I’ll definitely take your advices forward by reading as many management and leadership books as I move forward (which I’ve been doing anyway).
Thanks for your light shed on this important period in my life 🙂
Congratulations, Khalid. A wonderful opportunity and recognition! Hopefully you can look to your new boss for support to help you figure out your new role, and also, if you can be genuine with your team, often they can be a source of support as well. Good luck!
This is a great article Jesse. My experience going from being a technically focused individual into a more generalist leadership position prompted me to do research on the subject, and reflection on the lessons learned. I found that there is a large pool of junior leaders out there promoted because of their individual high performance, not necessarily their potential for leadership. As a result I founded Sky High Performance (www.skyhighperform.com). I’m excited to invite anyone with an interest in their junior leaders to visit my site and engage with my team.
Greetings to you Down Under! Thanks for sharing your insights, Nathan.
Another great article Jesse! Beautifully done. I am sharing with my community!
Wonderful! Thanks so much, Cynthia.