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The Second Gate in the Pipeline: Managing Others


You’ve done well. Your performance has been exemplary and we would like to offer you a promotion.

Go do great things! We know you can do it!

You’ve gotten your first management assignment! Congratulations! Taking on that first management assignment is scary and exciting. You tell your friends and family. You wonder what the first day in your new role will be like. You’re feeling pretty good. All of your hard work has been rewarded.

A few months later, you’re frustrated. You feel like you’ve been working too hard. You got the worst of the worst.People you’re responsible for seem like their not taking the job seriously. Work is piling up so you jump in. You constantly have to correct other people’s mistakes. You’re putting in extra hours, getting stressed, and are starting to wonder if the little extra money was worth this effort. You don’t feel like a star anymore. You’re beginning to feel like you got a bad deal. What’s going wrong?

The truth is, making the transition from Managing Self to Managing Others is a pretty big jump. Lot’s of things are going on that the new manager isn’t always aware of. There’s a good possibility, that unless the organization has some sort of support program (like coaching or mentoring), or the new manager has forged those relationships on their own, the school of hard knocks is about to start knocking.

There is a host of new skills first time manager must learn. Delegation; performance monitoring; coaching and feedback; relationship building up, down and sideways for the unit’s benefit; rewards and planning, job design and others are just some of the new skills a new manager may not have had to think about before.

They will be spending their time differently. Not only are meetings going to play more of a prominent role in their daily activity, but they will have to spend some time behind the scenes getting ready for those meetings. They’ll have to make time for subordinates; set priorities for the unit; and communicating with other units, customers and suppliers.

Their values will change. They will have to start thinking about themselves as a manager. They’ll need to learn to show visible integrity. They’ll be learning how to value the success of the unit in addition to their own success as an individual contributor. And they’ll be learning how to get results through other people instead of simply replying on their own efforts.

To an unsupported first time manager, taking on this job may feel a bit like being air dropped on an abandoned island. A whole new skill set is required for survival, but they don’t even know what they don’t know. Necessity becomes their teacher.

The leadership pipeline loses some really good leadership candidates during this transition. Especially in organizations that don’t have support for first time managers. Many would-be excellent managers simply quit or move on – believing that management isn’t for them. With a little help, they could have been great!

What’s sometimes worse than the drop-out rate is the success of a manager who isn’t prepared to move on. Some first time managers survive this transition without mastering the skills necessary at this level. These people may bluff their way into another promotion or the organization may quickly promote them without validating that they have mastered the skills necessary at this level. This creates holes in the organization’s leadership structure, hurts the emerging leader, and it hurts people they come in contact with down the road.

For example, a manager at this stage may be able to dedicate enough of their personal time to fix employee performance problems by doing the work themselves – by “covering” for their staff instead of giving the staff what they need to be successful on their own. This ends up being counter productive for the leader and for the work unit. The leader won’t be able to scale into broader areas of responsibility later. They can’t do everything! And the work unit isn’t capable of maintaining performance levels without their crutch.

Fortunately, there are some warning signs we can look for. Frustration is a great signal. Frustration is an indicator that there is a difference between what someone expects and what they are getting. If we are making the time to meet regularly and listen to first time managers, frustrations can be a signal that there is something going on that’s worth exploring further.

What first time managers say is another good barometer to keep an eye on. If they tend to make excuses, blame failures or hiccups on others, or don’t accept responsibility for the success of their team, they may be struggling with this transition.

The Leadership Pipeline: How to Build a Leadership Powered Company dedicates an entire section to what the author calls “Pipeline-Unclogging Tactics.” I won’t go into the details for all of them here, but here’s a short list of the tactics they suggest:

Prepare. Clearly communicate what being a first time manager means to them and to your organization.

Monitor. This comes naturally embedded in a coaching program or when a healthy relationship exists between the first time manager and their supervisor, but here’s a few other ways the book suggests. You can read about them in more detail in Chapter 2:

  • Observation. This is sort of like what teachers do when they first start teaching classes. They are “observed” by a more experienced teacher in the classroom setting. They usually do what they do and then get feedback afterwards.
  • Sampling: 360 degree feedback, employee attitude surveys, etc
  • Gap Analysis: Just ask the first time managers for their perceptions and compare those against the survey and observation results.

Intervene. Another natural part of a good coaching program. I personally like to “intervene” over a cup of coffee somewhere, but many options exist. The book offers these suggestions:

  • Coaching-Feedback
  • Peer Learning and Partnering
  • Meetings, Readings and Travel

Finally, there are circumstances where a first time manager simply isn’t ready and can’t be made ready with whatever support is available. Not being good at these new skills is very natural in the beginning (as we see in “Jim,” a character in Megan Libby’s post titled “GovLoop Leader Challenge: What Would You Do?” It takes time to practice and master these skills. If, however, it becomes clear that a person isn’t cut out for managerial work, it’s important to return that person to the individual contributor pool with dignity. Prepared and supportive organizations should have a plan for doing this.

This post is the third in a Leadership series that examines the leadership pipeline from Managing Self to Managing an Enterprise. It is structured loosely around the book “The leadership Pipeline: How to Build a leadership Powered Company.” It is supported by discussions such as “What is the Role of a Leader in Government?,””Leadership Series: Tips for Managing Self,” “Leadership Series: Learning to Manage Others,”and is sprinkled with the author’s own experience and commentary.

It would be great to hear from you! If you have a story about becoming a first time manager, managing a first time manager, or being managed by a first time manager, please share! I’ll start a discussion thread on the subject to make it easier for us to respond to one another’s commentary.

For other posts in this series, see:

An Overview of the Leadership Pipeline

The Second Gate in the Leadership Pipeline: Managing Others

The Third Gate in the Leadership Pipeline: Managing Managers

The Fourth Gate in the Leadership Pipeline: Managing a Function

The Fifth Gate in the Leadership Pipeline: Managing a Business

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