Why New Managers Struggle

These are challenging times. All businesses struggle; large or small. The markets are fluctuating, customer loyalty can change at the speed of a mouse-click, and the constant pressure to innovate keeps everyone on their toes.

Sometimes, this rapid workplace change creates situations where a new manager is thrust into positions of pivotal importance without allowing them the time they need to get acclimated to their new role. They don’t get the training that they need, or the company sees their technical abilities and assumes managerial competence: “They’ll figure it out.”

I’ve been in that situation. You may have been in that situation, too. The “figuring it out” is usually through trial and error; leaning heavily towards error.
When new a manager struggles, it’s usually in three key areas: making the transition from “buddy” to “boss”, learning to wield the new power wisely, and asking for help.

Buddy to Boss

This is one of the biggest challenges for new managers. Often the new manager is promoted from within the ranks of the department or team they are now managing. They were likely selected based on their technical abilities, the knowledge and mastery of the business processes, and their commitment to the company. A new manager is the “go-to” person in the department whenever anyone has questions or needs help. There is no doubt that this was the perfect choice for promotion.

The problem comes during the execution of managerial duties and responsibilities. Remember, the team has worked with this person; they know her work habits, know her jokes and fears, they know her anxieties, and they know aspects of her personal life. People don’t just forget that when she gets promoted.
This new manager comes in, not as an unknown quantity that people need to take time to “figure out,” she comes in with people still looking at her as the same person she was yesterday, just in a different chair.

When it’s time to assign work or reprimand their former colleagues, these familiarities enter the equation. How do you reprimand someone you play golf with or do yoga with every morning? How do you assign a dirty job to the guy who takes you out fishing on his boat?

Familiarity Breeds Contempt

Getting past the familiarity is usually easier for the employees than it is for the new manager, although there are always instances where that familiarity comes into play. The new manager reprimands a worker who responds “Seriously? I’ve seen you do this very thing yourself!” or “You’re telling me how to do my job? I’m the one that taught you!”

The initial instinct is to make a stand, flex your muscles. Show the team that you are in control; give orders in a no-nonsense tone; hyper-critical to show you see it all, and to let them know that you know THEIR secrets, too, and can nail them if given the opportunity, right?

Wrong. That’s no way to gain the respect. Remember: You can’t demand respect; you have to command respect.

One trick to commanding the respect of your team is to enter the new role of manager gracefully and timidly. Not timid as in weak and cowering; I mean timid like a racehorse. Show confidence in your abilities, knowing full well that you could wield your new power if necessary but also show the restraint that comes with wisdom.

Show that you are fair, that you are willing to listen and are open to feedback. You can still be friendly; you just can’t be friends in the same, collegiate manner you were before the promotion. It’s all a matter of balance.

Wielding Power

Speaking of power, this is often where new managers get into trouble. Of course, their former colleagues will test the waters; how far can they push their friend before she breaks.

Knowing how to wield the power is one thing; knowing when to yield the power is another.

As a new manager, you must be familiar with all of the company and human resources policies and procedures. If there aren’t formal classes for these, make it a point to gather the relevant documents and study them. If there isn’t an HR business representative assigned to your department, see if you can get a commitment from the head of human resources to coach you.

Again, management is about balance. Make sure your employees are clear about the objectives, clear about the expectations, clear about how success is measured, and clear about the consequences. The clearer you can be with the delegation of duties the better for everyone.

Asking for Help

Being a new manager is virgin territory for some. Don’t be afraid to find someone familiar with the role and ask questions. Find a mentor, someone who is well respected and successful. Find someone with the leadership skills that you want to emulate and then model your style after theirs. Eventually you will step into your own rhythm but, for the time being, follow a model that works.

Also, ask for help from your human resources department. They can clarify policies and give you insights on how to handle specific situations.

The last thing that I would recommend is that you should be familiar with your company’s value statement, vision and mission statements, and employee code of conduct. Your role as manager is to support the company’s stand in all of your dealings. I would also recommend that you have a clearly defined code of personal and professional conduct. By having a code that you live your life by (based on your core values) you can be more confident in the exercise of your duties. You will instinctively know whether your decisions are aligned to your values (honesty, integrity, justice, diligence, etc.) and whether you are encroaching on or violating your code.

Life is a process of continual learning, stretching our knowledge and understanding. Being a new manager is the same way. Learn as much as you can, ask questions whenever it’s necessary, find a mentor to help you find your rhythm, and follow your core values. If you can do these simple things, you will be successful.



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