Blog

September 8, 2016
5 Warning Signs a New Manager Needs Help

You recently promoted an all-star individual contributor to a manager role. She deserved it! She perfected her craft, is well-respected, and is eager to take her career to the next level.

She’s going to crush this, right? Don’t be so certain…  

After practically a decade in rapid growth companies, I’ve seen this play out time and time again. Reflect back on yourself as a freshly minted manager. Maybe you were a superstar right out of the gate, and you’ve continued to evolve your skills since. Or maybe, like the vast majority of new managers, you were just a teensy bit terrified and underprepared. You felt like you were trying to walk in your mother’s heels. You put on your poker face to instill confidence, and held your own while learning some tough lessons along the way.

In startups, change is inevitable, but there’s one true constant: new managers need support and coaching. The transition from individual contributor can be a rocky one. Finding the right ways to support the managers on your team will make or break your company. Think about how influential they are in shaping so many people across your organization.

The warning signs that a manager needs help aren’t always apparent, so be on the lookout for these red flags:

1. THEY AREN'T ASKING FOR HELP

New managers frequently feel like they need to "fake it ‘til they make it" to project credibility. Don’t mistake confidence for competence. No manager knows everything - we’re all learning as we go - and new managers are particularly in need of a basic foundation to help them learn to lead.

It’s up to you to create a culture of openness, where people feel comfortable asking questions. Set the example by frequently asking for feedback from your team. Don’t stop there - solicit advice from trusted mentors and peers, and share those stories with your team - this reinforces that it is okay, in fact welcomed, to not have all the answers.

2. THEY SAY 'YES' TO EVERYTHING

While a willingness to roll up your sleeves and dig in could be perceived as having a "team player" attitude, an inability to "just say no" can be crippling for managers. The overeager leader is left with little time to to prioritize, strategically plan team initiatives, or focus on growth. Still rooted in their previous roles as individual contributors, new managers often have a hard time resisting the urge to get hands on. Many also feel uncomfortable relinquishing control, and could benefit from a crash course in delegation.

Encourage the managers on your team to slow down and seek clarity about what success looks like in their new role, differentiating how they win from how their team wins. Help them identify the skills their team members can leveraging or strengthening and match them with the right opportunities. Talk through the right form of support or direction for their direct reports, basen on their level of experience with a particular area of focus. Even better, work with a leadership coach to bring a delegation workshop to your team.

3. THEY LOOK BUSY, BUT NOT MUCH IS GETTING DONE

No, this doesn’t mean that your manager has thrown in the towel. Leadership can be overwhelming for newbies, and some people cope by either procrastinating or spending all their time putting out fires. With so many lofty goals on the horizon, it’s challenging to know where to begin, especially while learning to lead a team.

If that sounds familiar, chances are your manager needs help understanding the company vision and creating an aligned action plan. If you can’t remember the last time you and your new manager talked about the company vision, it’s probably time. Don’t stop there - make it part of your ongoing dialogue with your team. Comprehending your vision is essential for ensuring that managers know how the work that their team does impacts your overall strategy and the bottom line. Often we take for granted that a new manager knows what is expected of them.

Imagine you’ve jumped ahead a year and are looking back at their work, what would you consider success? Clarity is the first step in the right work getting done.    

4. THEY 'MAKE NICE'

Most people want to be universally liked. It’s a big pill to swallow when new managers realize that being liked doesn’t always mean being respected as a leader. If your people are avoiding a difficult conversation and sweeping things under the rug, tensions and frustrations will only build.

Share a simple and easy to grasp framework for having these conversations and facing them head-on, so emotions don’t interfere with the team’s growth. The outcome of so many tough conversations is decided well before the conversation ever takes place - if it ever even takes place. With the right preparation, a manager can navigate any tough topic.

5. THEIR TEAM HAS TOO MANY GOALS

Every company wants ambitious people in leadership positions. But when managers are unable to clearly and concisely articulate their team’s major initiatives, it’s a sign that their team is lacking focus. Go back to the vision, ask them to connect the dots of how their team impacts the overall strategy, then have them break it down into time chunks: what needs to be done this year, this quarter, this month?

This not only helps them create alignment with their people, it will also help them prioritize. It’s okay to say no to great ideas - it can be hard to do, but is absolutely essential in a rapid-growth world. When your manager understands the strategic direction she is better equipped to prioritize and know where to spend her time.

Now look up from your computer. See anyone who could use a boost? 


Gabriela McManus is Executive Director at Intelligent.ly. Follow her on Twitter: @GabMcM

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