The long-term shortage of management skills means that filling leadership positions with people who have notched up the necessary years to make them experienced managers rarely happens. The result is that many are promoted into management before they are ready, and it’s not surprising that a staggering 60 to 80% of new managers fail.
Leaders often overlook that when they raise an employee into a management position the person requires both a new mindset and a new, complex skills-set. Neither of these is easy or quick to acquire, and their development does not happen organically. Yet, very few companies invest in specific interventions to properly support a new manager in making the transition into leadership and gaining the management skills they require to do their job well.
Managers are expensive, and the cost of a new manager who fails goes beyond the recruitment expenses to impact on the organisation’s effectiveness and the morale of their staff. It makes sense to ensure that there is a comprehensive programme in place to support new managers and deliberately put them on the road to success.
Hidden challenges of leadership transition
The challenges faced by new managers are varied. The obvious ones are gaining new knowledge, learning new organisational structures, getting to know new teams or shifting the relationship dynamics with former colleagues. More subtle and hard to meet, are the personal challenges that arise in response to the change which can include self-esteem, self-doubt, self-criticism, unrealistic expectations of oneself, finding one’s leadership style, readjusting one’s boundaries and reframing one’s identity.
Finding oneself in a new and demanding position with a barrelful of responsibilities can be completely overwhelming. If the manager was promoted out of their former team, it can also be a very lonely position. Pressures and stresses need to be well-managed for the new manager to maintain their confidence and equilibrium. What the new manager needs more than anything else is a trusted ally who facilitates honest reflection and expanded awareness.
It is for this reason that leadership coaching is gaining ground as an intervention that can help a new manager cope with transition and develop the personal and professional capacities demanded by being a leader. Coaching is one of the ‘helping’ professions that fosters greater self-awareness and the development of a well-rounded approach to self and others. The leadership coach works to create a strong, safe, confidential relationship with the new manager where vulnerabilities can be expressed and explored. A coaching plan with stated goals drives the intervention with the coach tracking progress and guiding the new manager towards the achievement of objectives. The coaching process itself widens the new manager’s self-awareness, and through this they gain many of the competencies essential for good leadership.
While leadership coaching can help a new manager gain significant new ground, it may not be all that the new manager needs. Often the transition to management demands learning new content, and a mentor from the established leadership of the organisation can transfer this knowledge, as well as assist the new manager in learning the subtle workings of the company’s hierarchy. In addition, formal training interventions may be required to transfer ‘hard’ skills to the new manager. Therefore, the ideal invention for new managers is likely to be a three-pronged approach combining coaching, mentorship and training that is customised to meet the needs of the individual.