Proper Care and Feeding of Your First-Time Managers

As career steps go, shifting from individual contributor to manager is right up there near the top for difficulty level. If you navigated this transition at some point and sustained your career as a manager, you have scars or at least cringe-worthy stories of your early days in this role.

For many individuals, it’s one and done when their flirtation with management flames out spectacularly. For others, the recognition this job would be easy if not for the people sends them sprinting back to an individual contributor role. However, if you are a manager charged with developing new managers, you’ve got a unique set of challenges in front of you. This article outlines four big ideas to help you succeed with the good, hard work of developing first-time managers on your team.

Four Essential Actions to Help Your First-Time Managers Succeed

1. Sink or Swim is Not a Viable Strategy

Tossing your new manager in and assuming she’ll figure it out is never acceptable, but listen to enough experienced managers describe their start-ups, and you quickly recognize how popular it’s been over time. In many instances, overloaded managers make heat-of-the-moment promotions, selecting solid citizens, hoping they’ll quickly take some pressure off the daily demands. The promoting manager might have good intentions, but daily fire-drills turn into months and quarters where coaching and developing are afterthoughts at best.

Regardless of your circumstances, it’s important to recognize your reputation and success are intrinsically linked to your ability to develop and deploy the talent your organization needs to succeed. Accept that the fate of the first-time managers on your team reflects directly on you, and manufacture the time to observe, coach, and engage with them. It’s not optional.

2. Help First-Time Managers Build a Solid Foundation:

In the swirl of starting up as a new manager, the loftier issues that build long-term success as a manager and leader are typically not top-of-mind much less on the agenda. That’s too bad, because investing early in building a strong foundation for leading pays dividends for a career. I work with my new managers to help them understand and internalize:

  • Their role as a leader
  • The importance of character in developing credibility and engendering trust
  • The power of clarifying and promoting values for accountability, engagement, and problem-solving across their teams
  • The difference between groups and teams
  • The power of respect

Character, values, trust born of respect and clarity of role are all critical components of the mix that ultimately hardens into our professional foundation.

Your job as the promoting manager is to have the conversations, coach and offer feedback and feed-forward based on observation, and require actions that support the development of a solid foundation. Teach your new manager to articulate their view on their role and accountabilities. Encourage them to work with their teams to define the values that govern membership. And hold them accountable to their commitments to impress upon them the power of accountability to promote and build performance.

3. Challenge them to People-Solve—Teach, Don’t Tell

The people issues are of course the most challenging part of managing. From resolving minor squabbles to navigating difficult personalities and learning to conduct challenging conversations, the learning curve is steep and stress level high.

You’ll be tempted to dispense answers for many of these issues when the right strategy is to use questions and coaching to help your new managers think through to possible solutions. Sure, the problem your new manager is describing is one you can quickly dispatch with a clear, behavioral, business-focused feedback discussion. However, chances are, your new manager doesn’t understand what that is. Asking questions to get to the core issues and business impact, as well as possible solutions, helps condition your new manager in thinking through the challenges.

4. Help Your New Manager Understand Your Reality:

One of the most valuable and often overlooked opportunity is to ensure your first-time manager understands your goals and accountabilities and how her job and team contribute to accomplishing those goals.

Remember, this new manager is both a reflection on you and an extension of you. Ensuring that she understands the goals and metrics driving you helps her provide context for her work and the work of her team. Additionally, your willingness to share your goals, accountabilities, and performance metrics models a great behavior that your manager should pay forward.

Context translates to clarity and promotes performance.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

There are few activities in your management career that offer the high return-on-time-invested (ROTI) than actively engaging and supporting your newly promoted first-time managers. Great managers on your team help high performance go viral and create a multiplier effect for your reputation. If this feels like work, well, maybe you’re in the wrong role.

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About the Author:

Art Petty is a coach, speaker and workshop presenter focusing on helping professionals and organizations learn to survive and thrive in an era of change. When he is not speaking, Art serves senior executives, business owners and high potential professionals as a coach and strategy advisor. Additionally, Art’s books are widely used in leadership development programs. To learn more or discuss a challenge, contact Art.

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