The transition to first-time manager from individual contributor is often fraught with false starts and frustrations. The chief learning officer plays a key role in helping first-time managers successfully negotiate one of the most important rites of passage in business.
The first thing beginning managers need is moral support. Because their former peers now report to them, these new managers are still getting used to no longer being part of the gang. No matter how much camaraderie they might have shared with their former teammates, their new direct reports see them differently. As someone who likely has experienced that shift, your support will be important.
Your first-time managers will also need direction. Sure, they are bright and motivated — that’s why they were promoted. And yes, they’ve earned some autonomy. That doesn’t mean you can disappear on them. Your first-time managers are going to need your help developing skills for their new roles.
Encourage your first-time managers to schedule regular one-on-one meetings with you. During these meetings, you can assess whether they’re still enthusiastic about their new position or if they’ve hit what Situational Leadership II calls the disillusioned learner stage.
In a recent letter to The Ken Blanchard Cos. “Ask Madeleine” blog, a first-time manager articulated the disillusioned learner stage beautifully:
“I have realized I really don’t like being a manager. I go from wiping runny noses and managing minor crises at home (I have two young children and a spouse who travels) to talking people off the ledge and putting out brush fires at work. I really miss the old days of settling in to do focused work that really made an impact. I find myself feeling jealous of my direct reports because they get to do fun work while I am stuck with endless drudgery.”
Here’s where you can model for your first-time managers how to avoid the drudgery and empower their direct reports. Show them, by your own example, how to use the three skills of the New One Minute Manager:
- Goal setting: Like any other direct reports, new managers need your guidance and partnership in setting goals. As first-time managers, their new goals — such as increasing revenue, reducing turnover or developing new programs — are more nebulous than the task-oriented goals they were accustomed to as individual contributors. Be sure they know what a good job will look like. Help them set a manageable number of SMART — specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-bound — goals. Remember, you’ll be talking to them about their leadership of others. What are their plans for leading their team to achieve the goals?
- Praising: Especially now that your first-time managers are responsible for inspiring others, they need encouragement. Again, because managing others is not as measurable as, for example, answering customer calls, it’s important to praise progress toward long-term goals. By encouraging your first-time managers with praise, you not only motivate but also model how to motivate their direct reports. Once again, discuss their leadership of their team members. Are they taking the time to catch their team members doing things right?
- Redirecting: When a first-time manager’s goals are not being met — for example, the department’s revenue is still down — the manager needs to be redirected. Go back to the goal, and make sure the first-time manager is clear about what the two of you previously agreed upon. Together, review the facts around the situation, and discuss how the manager plans to get back on track and redirect the unproductive efforts.
Finally, set up your first-time managers for long-term success by helping them look beyond their current roles. Find out what they are excited about and the kind of long-term career aspirations they have. Sadly, an employment recruiter often knows more about ambitious new managers than their own managers do.
Nurturing first-time managers can be one of the most rewarding aspects of your job. There’s nothing better than getting a letter from a leader you once managed telling you about the positive effect you had on their life and career.
Ken Blanchard is chief spiritual officer of The Ken Blanchard Cos. and co-author of “Collaboration Begins with You: Be a Silo Buster.” To comment, email editor@CLOmedia.com.