Perhaps, you have just been promoted to management for the first time. Perhaps, you have just promoted someone to their first management role. In either case, the next few months will be a challenge. The shift from valued contributor to successful manager is a difficult road with potholes, detours, and drop-offs up ahead.
As such, it is vital to detect the warning signs when a first-time manager is struggling. It is likely that the performance of the manager’s team will not immediately crater. But, these warning signs, these flashing “yellow lights” will give a heads-up that something is not going well and that future problems are just around the bend.
1. The Manager Does Not Change Mindset and is Still All About “I”
First time managers are nearly always promoted to that position because of their individual success in their previous positions. They are high performers who have been accountable and performed. Well Done!! Now, however, their success will not be measured by what they themselves do. Rather, they are evaluated based on the success of their team. Thus, the new manager’s overriding focus needs to shift to the performance of their direct reports and getting this team to get their jobs done.
This is a significant shift in mindset; the manager needs to think less about “I” and more about “We.” As a colleague once said:
You need to take the “I” out of ego.
Failing first-time managers do not change their mindset and remain focused on their individual performance. Further, they may refuse to take ownership for the performance of their people, distancing themselves from the team’s problems, challenges and failures.
2. The Manager Does Not Utilize the Basic Management Toolkit
As a first-time manager leading on the frontlines, the key skills remain:
- Defining and assigning work to be done.
- Ensuring that the direct reports have all the tools and time to do the work.
- Following up and providing feedback and support (encouragement, recognition, gratitude) to motivate and engage the direct reports to get their work done.
- Problem solving and removing obstacles that hinder the direct reports from getting their work done.
- Building relations across the company with other managers.
Effective managers spend most of their days on these basic management tasks and realize that it is their job to get their team to do their job well. Flailing managers spend little time on these skills, most often neglecting the follow-up. In addition, they will often interject themselves in the work of their team fixing their people’s mistakes rather than teaching them how to do their work correctly.
3. The Manager is Power-Tripping
The manager may be rarely available and not approachable. She may view questions from direct reports as interruptions from her “more important” work. Or he may over-rely on his title (and position), barking out orders and threats to get his team to do something.
4. The Manager Refuses to Admit That He or She is Drowning
Becoming a manager does not come naturally, especially for a star individual performer. All too often new managers refuse to admit that they are not succeeding. To get the team’s work done, they go beyond fixing people’s mistakes and begin to take on more and more of the team’s work themselves. They stop delegating and justify their actions with the slogan: “if you want something to be done right, then you need to do it yourself.” And they do not ask anyone (boss, peer, trusted direct report) for help.
Avoiding the potholes and developing successful and skilled first–time managers is a vital task in any organization. First, these new managers are on the front lines of the business where 90% of the daily battle takes place. Second, these first-time managers are the future senior leaders of the company. If they do not learn to be effective managers and leaders at this level, then they will likely never learn these skills with serious and debilitating consequences for their organizations.