The work of new manager development in our organizations is mostly messy. If you’re the new manager, that’s a problem. Ditto for the promoting manager.
Too often we thrust our best and brightest individual contributors into this role expecting they’ll figure it out. Some do, but many don’t, costing the firm a talented individual contributor while breeding a lousy manager.
Even for firms that use a deliberate process of assessment, experimentation, training, and coaching, the process remains messy. After all, moving from contributor to manager is a challenging transition. The skills that worked before don’t directly or immediately transfer to the new role. Nor are the requisite managerial skills easy to quickly cultivate.
In my experience, success for new managers doesn’t start with skills development—it begins with clear context for the role.
Three Questions to Help New Managers Gain Critical Context
I tackle the foundation issue for new managers by challenging them to think through three key questions:
1. What’s my purpose as a manager?
This question is lofty, cerebral, and answering it requires the new or aspiring manager to examine motivations and to begin thinking deeply about what they are signing on for in this job.
For many, the initial appeal of managing means higher compensation and elevated stature and possibly an entrance ramp to the fast-track. While all of those may be true, they are superficial factors and obscure the realities and challenges inherent in the difficult work of managing.
Effectively, this first question challenges the individual to think through why they want to lead and what they want to accomplish. While these are significant issues for any manager, it’s important to help new managers begin to build context for their role. Answering this question brings relevance to the skills development work facing the new manager.
2. What do my team members need from me to succeed?
Here’s our next view change. I love this question for the power it has to shift the aspiring manager’s view outward to the team members impacted by a new (literally) manager.
Most of the mistakes of fresh managers come in the way they deal with their team members. Some over or micro-manage. Others perceive they need to become instant dictators. And still, others are so frightened by the role they don’t manage at all. Thinking through and asking directly what the team needs from the manager create guardrails against those extreme forms of mismanaging.
The best use of this question is direct with the team members in the situation. I counsel new managers to use what I call Angela’s Question (for the great project manager who taught me how powerful it is) in this setting: “At the end of our time when we’re successful, what will you say that I did?”
Just asking this question shows respect, plants the seeds of trust, makes team members feel as if they matter, all critical issues at new manager start-up.
Newsflash: experienced managers gain as much as new managers from this powerful question when they ask their team members. It’s amazing what people will tell you about what they do and don’t need from their manager.
3. How can I turbocharge my learning?
This third question shifts the thinking back to the individual but frames the task appropriately—it’s a learning situation.
I want new managers constantly thinking about how they can become better learners. The most successful adopt a Beginner’s Mindset. The question invites the essential topics of observation and listening to the situation. It also places the onus for learning, growth, and change squarely in the right place—the new manager. It isn’t the team that has to change; it’s the manager that has to learn and adapt to support the team.
The Bottom-Line for Now:
Eliminating the swirl and flail entirely from the world of the new manager is impossible. However, you can slow down the chaos and prevent against extreme mismanaging by asking and seeking the answers to the right questions.