Imagine what would happen if you decided to build a structure—say a new home—without considering the need for a foundation. With a bit of good luck and favorable weather, you might finish your construction and stand back happily admiring your creation. However, this happiness wouldn’t last for long as settling, shifting grounds and less-than-favorable weather all combine to distort and even wreck your structure. Your significant investment in time and labor and hoped for great utility and joy from your new home would fall apart around you. The same logic applies when it comes to developing new managers.

No, we don’t construct people; however, experienced managers help individuals build their careers. Early assignments, a manager’s coaching, and lessons learned the hard way, provide the foundation for a new manager’s future work, contributions, and advancement. The stronger the foundation, the higher the chances of a stable, resilient, effective manager emerging from your efforts.

Understanding and Assessing The New Manager’s Foundation

In my article, New Manager Development—Put Your Back Into It, I offer six ideas to help you assess aspiring managers. I love this pre-promotion work because it affords you an opportunity to identify where the work will be needed to build and grow this new manager. I look first at the individual’s foundation—their character, core values, and something I call trustability—their ability to trust and be trusted.

Yes, an aspiring or new manager’s character is mostly formed by the time they fall under your tutelage. Character and values and to a greater extent, trustability, are all developed at an early age through a person’s upbringing and culture. However, there are elements of an individual’s professional foundation yet unformed that you can directly influence through coaching.

Helping Strengthen the New Manager’s Foundation:

The motivation to lead (and manage) is vague for most new managers. Answers to the question, “Why do you want to manage?” reflect a spark of interest, or, the motivation to get ahead. Those are fine for starters, but it’s a tough job, and you don’t sustain through the trials and tribulations on a spark. You need to help the aspiring or new manager discover this role and come to grips with true motivations.

And for most new managers, there’s little clarity surrounding what Noel Tichy references as the individual’s Leadership-Point-of-View (LPOV). The work of leading goes hand-in-hand with managing and shouldn’t be arbitrarily parsed out and reserved for individuals at loftier levels. Much like the motivation to manage, the individual’s philosophy and values on leading others must be drawn out and formed. Again, you as the coaching manager must help this along.

Help your new manager think through these issues during the pre-promotion or early stages of their tenure.

Challenge them to explore their ideas on managing and leading, and then create a charter that codifies their views on these issues. In my coaching programs, I work with new managers to engage their teams in talking about and contributing to what I term, the Leadership Charter. This document becomes a compass for the new manager, pointing to his/her core responsibilities and priorities.

Soon enough, the work of the business will occupy the new manager’s waking and working hours. They will be in rapid learning mode. I want them to be learning and developing based on a solid, resilient foundation. I want new managers thinking and working on themselves as leaders at an early stage.

A Foundation without a Structure is Just a Curiosity

A good friend of mine with some empty land next to his home poured the foundation and slab for a structure-to-be-determined at some future point in time. Twenty-five years later, the slab is still there sans structure, and the question, “Bob, what are you going to put there?” has given way to, “Bob, are you going to put anything there? Ever?

Build 4 Pillars on Top of Your Strong Foundation

In my construction metaphor, we are building four primary pillars sitting on this robust and resilient foundation. These include:

1. Operational Agility

For this pillar, the focus is on supporting the development of knowledge and skills for running the business. The emphasis is on translating goals and objectives into actions and generating the results needed to support and grow the business.

2. Strategic and Critical Thinking

The work on this pillar emphasizes problem-solving, decision-making and the ability to learn and adapt and identify solutions in situations of increasing ambiguity

3. Leadership Flexibility

I look for role awareness, and the ability to adjust style and approach to changing circumstances and conditions.

4. Communication Adaptability

The skills and abilities to adjust and adapt and succeed in varying challenging communication situation. I particularly look for how effectively an individual is able to persuade others, creating great outcomes for all parties and the business.

Consider the foundation and pillars as essential for supporting the structure at the top—in this case, the new manager. Most of the development effort and rich learning for all of us takes place in the four pillars. Nonetheless, they will wobble or fall unless the foundation is strong.

Putting this Model to Work Developing New Managers

I love this Foundation + Pillars model for its simplicity and memorability.

On most days, I can remember five things without too much difficulty. And importantly, when I engage with individuals in different settings, I can observe them through the behaviors inherent in each of the pillars and ultimately provide coaching or developmental activities that support growth in the relevant areas.

It’s Imperative to Move Beyond the Operational Pillar:

You can coach and train for operational effectiveness, but this alone doesn’t help the individual develop as a problem-solver or critical thinker. Encouraging individuals to think through issues, and deftly using questions even when you know the answers, all stimulate thinking on the part of the new manager. As she grows into her job, pushing her into situations of increasing ambiguity and then supporting the critical thinking through questions and encouragement to experiment is essential.

You are a teacher and coach of new managers and a builder of your organization’s future leaders. You must replicate your work on the operational and critical thinking pillars with opportunities, teaching, and coaching to develop the communication and leadership pillars. And yes, in reality, they all interrelate, but the skills and behaviors in each are developed separately over time and with effort.

You can see and observe someone’s comfort communicating in different settings. Most of us don’t show up knowing how to persuade coworkers to adopt our ideas or programs. And few of us arrive understanding what it means to lead and knowing how to bring this to life through our daily actions.

It’s up to you as the developing manager to observe and engage, looking for cracks in the foundation to repair and opportunities to grow and strengthen the four pillars.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

We’re all ridiculously busy, yet fully aware we need to spend more time coaching and developing team members, particularly our newer managers. Developing new managers isn’t the responsibility of human resources or even your training department (if you have one). It’s your responsibility, and it’s good work you can incorporate into the daily activities leading your team. Learn to listen and observe, and then coach. The Foundation + Four Pillars model offers a simple but not simplistic framework for observing, assessing, and then coaching.

Art's Signature