Many new managers are terrible bosses. According to American development company Corporate Executive Board, 60% of employees fail in the first two years of being appointed to a managerial position.
The Centre for Creative Leadership gives them a 50% chance of getting right – but most new managers will agree that, even then, the odds are not in their favour.
The problem is not a lack of qualifications or professional experience, but the lack of adequate training and skills. Many leaders in educational systems, municipal offices, corporate structures and organisations are promoted to their positions and expected to perform, reach targets and motivate their teams while satisfying bosses at the top – often without any formal training on how to effectively lead a team.
It is no wonder that new managers have the most stress in the workplace, as research by the universities of Manchester and Liverpool revealed. Their studies showed that managers feel pressure from employees below them, as well as from the executive level, especially when they haven’t been in their roles long enough to develop confidence through trial and error.
Managers are often stuck between a rock and a hard place, explains Fatima Hamdulay, a senior lecturer at the UCT Graduate School of Business (GSB). Instead of being the ones responsible for a job, these employees now have to see to it that others do it – and that they do it well. Managers need different skills for this, she says. As a teacher of the new manager short course at the GSB, Hamdulay points out that while managing others may not come naturally to everyone, it is an ability that can be developed.
Leadership development practitioners and scholars have much to say about how to enhance leadership and build confidence – here are three key principles for first-time managers to cultivate:
Listen, don’t tell
Managing relationships is one of the most complex, yet crucial skills a manager needs. The dynamic between clients, customers, staff and executives largely determines the way organisations and companies function. Without an adequate understanding of how this works, managers will find themselves alienating and distancing themselves from co-workers, resulting in less productive teams.
It all starts with the way we think about ourselves and our jobs, says international coaching expert Nancy Kline. She developed the theory of the “thinking environment”, which has changed the way many corporations run meetings, workshops and brainstorming sessions. She stresses the importance of really listening when people talk, instead of, for example, what to say. This means allowing people to finish their thoughts without interruption and allowing everyone the opportunity to speak.
“In almost any setting, the best help we can be is to create the conditions for people to generate their own finest thinking. Much of the quality we are hearing is our effect on them,” says Kline.
So instead of giving orders and telling people what to do, managers could invite employees into a conversation about their jobs, finding out what the challenges are and how the employee goes about dealing with them. Genuine interest, respect and attentive listening sends a message to the employee that their opinions are valued and involve them in the process, which has been proven to lead to more engaged and productive employees.
Delegate, don’t do
Many new managers find it exceptionally difficult to delegate. Learning to delegate is not easy – it involves trusting people and allowing them to do their jobs without interference, judgement and criticism, giving the manager the chance to get on with other duties. At the same time, employees need to feel supported and confident that guidance is accessible.
Global management expert Charles Handy has published widely on several aspects of management development. He has said the business world of today faces problems that cannot be handled by one person acting alone. “Lonely learners are often slow and poor learners, whereas people who collaborate learn from each other create synergy,” he says. So a crucial part of delegation is to create and nurture a mutually supportive team.
Find your own way – don’t copy others
“The moment you doubt whether you can fly, you cease forever to be able to do it,” said Peter Pan author J.M. Barrie, capturing the importance of why managers need to be confident in their new role. But being confident can be tricky, especially for new managers who find themselves with a load of responsibilities and a host of unknown variables.
This is why personal mastery is important. Managers need to be self-aware and in tune with themselves. They need to understand their own strengths and weaknesses, and be aware of what kind of impact they have on others.
The sense of achievement new managers experience when they see the impact of their leadership is hugely rewarding.
Realising that they now know how to get people to work better in a team, how to relate more effectively to others and to speak with a voice of authority that commands respect – these come from experience, but can also grow from having confidence in one’s own abilities and skills.
A personal leadership style can be developed through the acknowledgement of one’s own unique personality and voice. Just as no two people are the same, managers can’t copy another’s way of management. Each person has to find his or her own way of managing. Management development courses provide a proven way for managers to explore their own style of managing and leading.
It boils down to allowing oneself to keep thinking and keep trying, practising different ways of reflecting on situations and on how they can be dealt with. The way of the old manager as the boss at the top of the stairs keeping an eye on everyone and yelling when someone steps out of line is over. Managers today need to think more and talk less, and ask questions, but not provide answers. In this way real progress is made, people are encouraged to grow and flourish, and productivity in the workplace is boosted.