You’re a Brand-New Manager. Now What?

Self-doubt, colleagues’ jealousy, difficulty delegating—the new manager will deal with them all

Dana Wilkie By Dana Wilkie February 5, 2020
leadership

​You were a star employee. Your superiors loved your work. You won awards. You were accustomed to a lot of independence, as well as respect from peers and bosses.

Now you've been promoted into management. And things aren't going so well. Your former peers and friends—now your subordinates—seem wary of you. You have to write their performance reviews, and some don't like what they read. There are new meetings and administrative tasks that suck up your time.

Welcome to the transition from rank-and-file employee to manager—an adjustment that, for many, takes time, patience, self-reflection, mentoring and training.

"Almost all people moving into a new management role find it difficult and challenging," said Paul White, Ph.D., president of Appreciation at Work and co-author of The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace (Northfield Publishing, 2019). "There are new skills required, and usually they aren't technical but relational. And usually it's failure in learning these skills that leads to problems."

Emma Brudner is director of people operations at Lola.com, a Boston-based company offering corporate travel management tools. She said a common challenge among new managers is making the mental shift "from doing to enabling."

"You're doing very little execution yourself; instead, you're enabling others to execute," she explained. "That can be difficult if you're someone who gets a charge out of crossing things off a to-do list. The work you do as a manager is ongoing and doesn't lend itself as well to being checked off a list at the end of the day. Whenever I talk with people who are considering a move to management, I try to prompt reflection on how it will feel for them to move away from doing the work themselves to enabling others to do the work."

[SHRM members-only HR Q&A: What tips are there for new managers who are now supervising their former peers?]

Self-Doubt, Pushback, Jealousy

First-time managers often experience self-doubt, White said.

"They will have doubts about their competencies and ability to handle the responsibilities of their new role," he advised. "This is common."

Subordinates—especially if they were former peers—may question a new manager's decisions and competence. This may be a particular problem if any of them applied for the new manager's job.

"There is a strong possibility that there may be resentment or jealousy," White said. "They may ask, 'Why were they chosen? Was it based on ability or on an 'in' they had with those higher up?' "

planeLearning to Let Go

Often, the new manager was a star employee because he or she was a self-starter, was motivated, and accomplished things quickly and well.

Now that same employee must learn how to help others do well, and that can be a tall order for someone accustomed to getting the job done independently.

"New managers often have trouble delegating, because [they think] it's faster or will get done at a higher quality if they do it themselves," Brudner said. "As a manager, your results are tied to the team's collective impact, and if you get good at coaching and helping others expand their capacity, the team's output is going to be greater than anything you could do on your own. It's hard to watch someone struggle with a task the first time they do it, but that's the way people learn."

The former star employee may have worked well with little direction. But the demands of management may require the new manager to reach out for help, especially with new administrative tasks that are complicated and time-consuming.

"It is critical to know when to ask for help, especially when there are opportunities for quick wins early on that will earn respect from peers and team," said Anne Scanlon, chief people officer at SmartBear, a Somerville, Mass.-based company that helps businesses develop software.


At the same time, new managers have to make autonomous decisions that may be new to them: how to allocate a budget, how to write performance reviews, whom to hire, how to discipline a problem worker, who gets a raise and who doesn't.

They'll have to navigate new relationships, maybe with a new direct supervisor, other managers or vendors. "Getting to know each of these individuals—their personality, priorities and communication styles—will take time and emotional energy," White said.

Typically, new managers will have access to more information, such as people's salaries, company financial data and high-level discussions that are proprietary.

That access "calls for different boundaries of what can and cannot be shared" with others, White said. "Where two colleagues maybe previously shared opinions and dialogued about work issues, at least some of these conversations may not be appropriate now."

And that can strain relationships with former peers.

"It is critical to know when to ask for help, especially when there are opportunities for quick wins early on that will earn respect from peers and team."
Anne Scanlon

Some Relationships Will Change

Navigating changes in relationships with former peers may be one of the most difficult aspects of becoming a new manager.

"These relationships will change—either in reality or in perception," White said. "Detangling intertwined relationships … will require time and effort."

White suggested some ways to help this process go smoothly:

Before discussing a sensitive matter with a former peer, think ahead about how the conversation may go and what you will say. "Make some notes. What do you want to happen? What don't you want to happen? What probably will need to change in how you relate?"

Set up a time to talk one-on-one with each direct report. With some co-workers, especially those you are closest to, share your concerns and desires about your new relationship. Ask for and listen to theirs.

Get counsel from someone who's been in your shoes. There may be issues that arise that you didn't anticipate and aren't sure how to handle. "That's OK," White said. "This is a new role that requires learning new skills. Seek out someone who can give valuable input."

Brudner notes that being the former peer of one's new subordinates can actually work in a manager's favor.

It can "be a benefit because there's automatic trust and empathy due to the fact that the manager has done the exact job of the now direct report, and they have a camaraderie from having worked together that enables them to be more direct and honest with each other," she said.

Still, Scanlon noted, the power dynamics between the new manager and former peers is no longer equal.

"Some key points to consider are to make sure that both parties are respectful, mature and honest and that there are specific and appropriate boundaries," she said.

For example, perhaps any socializing outside the office shouldn't include workplace discussions. The new manager should be professional outside the workplace and careful not to give preferential treatment to former friends on his or her new team.

"I try to model my own leadership style around how I can emulate the great bosses I have had while trying to not duplicate the actions of ones who I would consider bad," Scanlon said. "Think about the way your former bosses made you feel. Try to take the good you have learned, and try not to replicate how a terrible boss handled a situation."

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