A Newly-Promoted Manager Is a Rookie Again

Manager speaking with employee across a desk

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The hard work of developing a new manager begins at the time of promotion. Unfortunately, too many senior managers get this entirely wrong. They identify an individual with “leadership potential,” extend a promotion, fund a training course and then proceed to disappear, leaving the first-time manager to flail and often fail.

This flawed formula is painful for all individuals involved and costly for the organization. Sadly, this process is repeated across organizations.

Set Up to Fail

Many managers express disappointment at the way they were initiated into management positions. First-time managers often describe being left to “sink or swim” in their new role. Armed with little context for the challenges of directing and developing others, the rookie managers frequently resort to micro-managing and draconian practices.

Some senior managers believe that on the job training is the best and only way to learn how to manage.

If you are involved in identifying first-time supervisors or managers, your commitment to the following mentoring and coaching activities will significantly reduce the odds of first-time manager burnout and failure. 

Remain Involved

Remaining involved is crucial to your new manager. The success or failure of this individual is your responsibility. They are a reflection of you and your leadership. You owe it to yourself, the new manager and the extended team to do everything in your power to help the start-up process succeed.

Define Leadership Approach and Values Early

A question you could repeat regularly and that works perfectly here: “At the end of your time with this team, what do you want them to say that you did?” Practice challenging managers at all levels to articulate what they stand for and what they want to be known for. While perspectives change over time, running this activity with a new manager forces them to articulate their early leadership philosophy and values.

Offer Feedback and Feed-Forward

Nothing beats observation over a variety of settings to develop an understanding of where an individual is succeeding and struggling. While you do not have to be present constantly, a blend of planned and spontaneous observations will help you offer meaningful feedback and coaching guidance.

Extend Training Programs Beyond the Classroom

Too often, the learning ends with the training program. Work hard to help your manager implement, apply and extend the training beyond the actual event. Encourage the individual to develop and present you with a post-program action-plan. Remember to review progress against the plan in your regular coaching sessions. 

Meet Regularly With Your New Manager

Take an interest in your new manager. Ask them questions designed to make them think about their interactions with their team. Questions you could ask are:

  • How are you doing?
  • What’s working?
  • What’s not?
  • What is the most difficult part of the new role for you?
  • How do you feel that your team is responding to you?
  • Why?
  • What do you think you should do about it?
  • What will you do differently the next time?

Prescribe a Mentor

Your involvement in this process is necessary. However, it helps if the new manager has a peer with whom to discuss difficult issues and share experiences. Having someone to turn to and act as a guide is a valuable asset when in a new role.

Start Them Off Slowly

Give the new manager smaller tasks at first to build up confidence, unless this is not possible. As your manager displays competence at the fundamentals, ramp up the scale and scope of the challenges. Timely and deliberate exposure to increasingly difficult challenges will turbocharge development and help identify additional strengths and gaps.

Give the New Manager An Out During the First Year. 

Not everyone is cut out to manage. If either you or the new manager decides it is not working, provide an exit path and allow the individual to return to a contributing role. The promotion should never be a prison or a life sentence. Nor should this developmental initiative cost you a good employee, or make them feel like a failure. 

Developing the leadership talent on your team and in your firm offers a remarkable return on investment. It not only benefits everyone involved at the time, but it also creates a culture of mentoring that will continue to bring returns in the future.