If you are either considering the move from contributor to a manager or you are responsible for developing new managers on your team, here are four actions you can take to improve the odds of success.
1. Promoting Managers Must Have “The Talk” with the Aspiring Manager
No, not that talk! This talk is the facts-of-life-as-a-manager discussion that starts with, “Just about everything you’ve done before hasn’t prepared you for how incredibly difficult this is going to be.”
The new manager must learn the painful reality this is a “You-centric” role, not the “I-centric” one they’ve occupied thus far in their careers. Success is defined differently, and accountability is spread across a larger group of individuals and issues.
Most aspiring or new managers fail to understand the fundamental rewiring they have to perform on themselves. It’s a frustrating and challenging process where what was second nature now must be second-guessed.
2. Send the Aspiring Manager On a Treasure Hunt
I encourage promoting managers to send their prospective new managers out to talk with a broad cross-section of organizational leaders and managers about their start-ups as first-time managers.
While the discussions are eye-opening, I look to the aspiring manager to share what they’ve learned through the interviews in the form of a presentation. Talk is good, but I want the individual to process on what they learned. The presentation provides an opportunity for additional thinking and learning.
3. Try the Role for Size Before Anyone Buys
Everyone wins when the aspiring manager spends some time on-the-job without really being in-the-job. Projects offer a tremendous try-before-you-buy opportunity.
I love the ambiguity and challenge of projects where the aspiring manager is accountable for outcomes but carries no direct authority over the team members. This situation shows the individual the importance of building trust, gaining support, clarifying roles, and providing support to a group of experts who know how to do their jobs.
Project teams are typically adept at calling a time-out when the manager or lead misfires. They’re also good at crying foul over mismanaging and micromanaging, offering direct, real-time feedback for the aspiring manager.
4. Ask the Team What It Needs from the New Manager
In my experience, most individuals and groups understand what they need from a manager better than the manager does. One of the simplest and yet most practical approaches for gaining critical context for what the team needs from their new manager is to ask them.
Try “Angela’s Question,” which goes like this: “At the end of our time working together when we’re successful, what will you say that I did?”
With a bit of facilitation, there are always nuggets of gold for the new manager to mine in these conversations. The output of one of these sessions provides an opportunity for the new manager to develop a “Manager’s Charter” outlining their view of their responsibilities and accountabilities in support of the team.
Of all of the activities outlined above, Angela’s Question stands out in my experience for its power in helping shift the focus from “I-centric” to “You-centric.” Once this happens, the odds of the individual learning to succeed as a manager improve significantly.
The Bottom-Line for Now:
The new manager problem is never solved by a passive approach to mentoring and coaching. This work is a full-contact activity for all parties involved. Helping the aspiring manager cultivate a beginner’s mindset sets the stage for a powerful learning experience. It improves everyone’s chances of skipping over the costly misfires and missteps that derail many first-time managers.
For aspiring managers, check out my program and upcoming dates for What You Need to Know Before Day One as a First Time Manager. This low-investment, two-hour program is ideal for every individual considering the move from contributor to manager. For first time managers with less than 12 months of experience, consider our on-demand/self-paced course, First Time Managers Academy.