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Dr. John L. Reed
Nurturing a New Manager
Executive coaching creates opportunities to work with senior leaders who present an interesting mix of strengths, experience and opportunities for development. Dramatically different – but just as interesting – is coaching executives taking on their first management role. In preparing for these clients, it helps to understand how the world looks to people making this early career step, and how we as bosses, mentors or coaches can best position new managers to meet their inevitable challenges and to contribute.
In starting to work with a new manager, a key and yet often overlooked subject to talk through is specifically why and how he was promoted. Each manager’s circumstances differ, of course, but three characteristics often factor into promotion decisions; he demonstrates skill in generating impressive business results, shows higher than average desire for control and authority, and gets along well with others. ‘Gets along well’ usually means avoiding controversy or confrontation and using an interpersonal style focused on ingratiating himself with seniors and keeping things calm and predictable with peers. Paradoxically, as we will see, these interpersonal ‘skills’ make it tougher to transition from individual contributor to leader.
At the Launch Pad
Notwithstanding an outward calmness and ‘take charge’ presence he may bring, be assured that below the surface the new manager is decidedly anxious for at least two reasons. First, he lacks a sound model to rely on for managing others and, second, he has little sense for how to coach his new reports to higher performance. Questions nagging at him are likely ‘How good a manager will I be?’ and ‘Will I actually like managing?’ His coach helps here in various ways. For example, she talks with him to identify and normalize his anxieties and questions, helping him see how others in his position would also be on edge. She also helps him connect his anxiety with his already high need for control, suggesting that his control needs are now even more intense and could be modulated. As a coach, why would she bother to focus attention on his control needs? This may be her first step in helping him ‘put on the brakes’ to worry less about his individual performance and more about connecting in meaningful ways with each of his reports. She anticipates that he has an almost instinctive tendency to want to burst forward to ‘get going’ to demonstrate his value. She responds by highlighting his need for first doing homework to determine, for example, who in the organization he needs to know, what his team is like, and the kind of culture is he now part of. One of her coaching goals is to help him avoid problems that are self-defeating. For example, under new and higher stress, he is guided by her to steer clear of his tendency to depend on and lead with formal ‘position’ power. Instead, she encourages him to foster connections and so to influence his reports. Ironically, at his new level in the organization, balancing his interest in power with interest in understanding and supporting people is critical and non-negotiable.
he simply won’t have enough waking hours and energy to get everything done – much less to complete every task with the excellence he has come to be known for. She differentiates ‘influencing’ from ‘mandating’ for him. more importantly. Here she offers him an alternative approach – investing time and energy to learn what his reports want and need so they become more comfortable and trusting with him. she helps him uncover attitudes and behaviors to stop. connecting the dots to see how his and others’ decisions affect the entire organization and its market position. Over time. inspiring and bringing along people. Beware of the popular fallacy often relied on here – that since he is a ‘quick study’ he can be expected to overcome any hurdle and come up to speed fast. that there is value in his taking on the mindset of a learner. it is invaluable to earn others’ respect – instead of simply expecting it. Likely for the first time. As such. At the same time. while completing his tasks is still critical and expected. empowering his team and using their collective wisdom while easing tension and initiating relationships.832. Under new kinds of pressure. Eager to highlight skills by moving things in a different direction. She also builds his awareness of his own resistance to change. She reminds him to reach out to others for advice and information.worthyleadership.www. he shifts into his new role with the help of a thorough. building resentment and resistance. Despite fine skills.4018 As he lands in the new job.com Dr. he is humbled by his interdependency with reports. He may operate from a misconception – he is supposed to push or drive reports to comply with his agenda. for instance. Taking nothing for granted. This can backfire. as an individual contributor. Quick Study Hazards Typically the new manager is viewed by others and himself as bright with high potential. It strikes him that. Here she coaches him to accept the reality that he will not have all the answers and. Once in the position. increase or decrease. he was undoubtedly rewarded for performing well and producing results – with less emphasis on carefully listening to and observing others. he unfortunately may be too prescriptive and pedantic with people. Ideally. start. Even a ‘quick study’ can be in for a rough ride. organized on-boarding process. however. he also grasps how dependent he is on his team. business needs come up and consume other people’s time and resources so he arrives for work almost completely unprepared. Reed +1. illustrating why the former is more effective and longer-lasting. For example. Sooner or later. building morale and energy in reports is even more important and yet unfamiliar to him. Their lack of commitment or focus may now get him fired. the first step in working through the resistance so he has a realistic chance to grow and develop. she is careful that he includes former peers in this process.215. these behaviors limit his impact. she helps him focus on building authentic relationships to have a necessary platform for attracting. control needs may also compel him to rely even more on familiar behaviors that helped him get the new job position in the first place. it is unsettling that he alone no longer determines his success. John L. he suddenly is expected to think holistically. In reality. Yet these latter skills help set the foundation for what he obviously needs now – success in working through and with others. 2 .
high authority interest and low relationship interest may predispose him to ‘over supervise’. for instance. Am I just a means to achieve his personal agenda? Is he really using me or is he genuinely capable and interested in helping me achieve my agenda. meaningful measures of professional success. his coach partners with him to build his self-awareness and to guide him to behave and think in ways that compensate for and balance his interests. too?) and damage morale and trust. he is simultaneously challenged to work effectively with his new boss by balancing two powerful. finding ways to avoid corporate politics and other barriers or getting advice on what to do to generate momentum for career advancement. his organization.832. She works with him to clarify his interests and. in turn. In either case. 3 . ‘Learning his new job’ means. she points him toward learning about his boss’s unique characteristics and experience and how they shape his views on working with or promoting reports.worthyleadership. more importantly. he is more likely to learn new and necessary perspectives and behavior which. low authority interest and high relationship interest can predispose him to steer away from inevitable and necessary confrontation. Perhaps he overvalues being liked and so hesitates to give constructive but sharp criticism to reports. Managing Up While leading his reports is new and confusing. For example. and what it means to be effective in leading. For example. Unsettling questions can come up for reports (e. This in turn could encourage reports to withdraw and disengage.g. and learning his new job quickly and quietly to minimize chances of looking incompetent. she expects him to have different levels of interest in two areas: applying authority and building relationships. With the benefit of this support. They in turn wonder if he is capable of leading or if they can respect him as proficient and worthy of his new responsibilities. Alternatively.com Dr. His coach starts by helping him identify and then question generalizations and assumptions about his boss. Reed +1. competing needs: impressing his senior with better than expected results and with little to no need for ‘handholding’. New Yardsticks The current and future effectiveness of a new manager can be markedly affected by timely care and expertise offered from a boss or mentor in addition to a coach. to understand his resulting attitudes and behaviors and how best to navigate with them.215.4018 Authority and Relationships As a knowledgeable coach.www. Energy and attention invested in him can set his career on a positive path – with a fine ROI expected for his firm as well. position him to discover and progress along new. John L.
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