Andrew out-performed everyone in his department. Little wonder his employer jumped at the chance to move him into a management position when the opportunity arose. What seemed a good decision at the time, however, quickly turned sour. Far from being a stimulant to greater profits, Andrew’s supervision of others sent productivity in a nosedive. The reason? His mastery of technical skills was unmatched by an ability to work well with others.

Andrew’s story may sound familiar. “All too often, individuals promoted into leadership roles are selected for their technical expertise or their years of experience,” said Joe Mull, human resources consultant and author of the book “Employalty.” “The thinking is that if they’ve been very good in a specific job they’ll also be good at training others to do that job.”

In contrast, successful managers tend to think people more than process. They possess the ability to motivate  their direct reports and create high performance teams. “Certain characteristics seem to lend themselves to leadership,” said Victoria Pelletier, Managing Director at Accenture. “These include empathy, warmth, patience, curiosity and vulnerability.”

The personal attributes characteristic of successful managers are not as easily quantified as years in grade or technical achievements. Nevertheless, management consultants say employers can spot promising leadership talent by keeping an eye open for individuals  who  communicate well. “Without good communication skills, things tend to fall apart,” said Dennis Theodorou, Managing Director of JMJ Phillip Executive Search. “Managers need to be able to get people rowing in the same direction.”

Good communication skills feed directly into another leadership essential: the ability to delegate. “Managers need to be able to identify tasks that can be assigned to others, select team members with the necessary skills and experience, set clear expectations, and provide necessary resources, training, and support,” said Natasha Maddock, consultant and founder of Events Made Simple.

Training For Success

With leadership talent scarce on the ground in a tight labor market, it’s little wonder employers are looking to promote from within whenever they can. If prudence demands a second look at every advancement prospect, its also true that the good in a prospective manager need not be sacrificed to the perfect. Suppose a candidate for a management position lacks the required skills in communication and delegation. What can the company do ready the prospective manager for their new tasks?

One step is to provide opportunities to learn on the job by assigning the management of discreet projects, a process that helps develop communication and delegation skills. Another proven approach is the assignment of a personal guide in the form of a seasoned individual who can support the new manager with performance feedback and enlightened knowledge. 

“Great companies provide mentors to their new managers,” said Logan Mallory, VP of Marketing at Motivosity. “The new generation doesn’t want someone barking at them and watching their time clock. Mentors and coaches are the right way to lead these days.”

Not everyone, however, makes a great mentor. “Candidates need to understand what is expected of them in the proposed relationship,” said Mull. “Maybe they will need to devote a certain amount of time working with the new manager. Or maybe they will need to conduct instructive conversations and deal with situations that the mentee brings to them.”

A successful mentor relationship is a two-way street: The mentee also must be comfortable with the person assigned the role. That often requires separating the functions of mentorship and supervision. “A good mentor should usually not be the new manager’s boss, because that relationship possesses a different power dynamic,” said Mull. “The mentee may not be comfortable giving voice to their direct supervisor about areas where they’re struggling or feeling overwhelmed.”

Bonus tip: Colleagues can also help the new supervisor. “Very often the most effective managers are part of a peer group in which members carve out time to share their challenges and their struggles and exchange ideas for getting through them,” said Mull.

Dealing With Doubt

Even the most promising of new managers are bound to feel a degree of self-doubt about their abilities. They may well decide they have been given an assignment beyond their means.

In extreme cases, self-doubt can lead to a damaging paralysis. “The new manager has to be comfortable making decisions,” said Theodorou. “Many times the difference between a good manager and a great one is the ability to move forward and not just sit on something while self-doubt overcomes them.”

Pelletier said new managers can overcome this so-called “imposter syndrome” by leaning deeply into what they do well, even in an activity outside the workplace. For example, has the nascent manager been successful in managing people in a sports environment? “Try to build a bridge between that experience and the challenges of the new position,” she suggested.

Bonus tip: A good mentor can help the manager overcome self-doubt by providing positive feedback. 

Accepting Criticism

Becoming self-confident does not mean adopting  a posture of universal knowledge. The so-called “fake it til you make it” approach too often leads to costly errors.

When new managers are honest about their vulnerabilities, subordinates can guide them away from costly errors. “People often want to look like they deserve their promotion, they are the right person for the job, and they know exactly what they’re doing,” said Mallory. “But to be successful they will need to acknowledge areas where they don’t have all the answers. Asking team members for their ideas, expertise and support will lower their defenses.”

At the same time, new managers need to realize that negative assessments from subordinates are part of the job. “You will always have critics as a manager,” said Mallory. “You will always have people who think you did things wrong or don’t deserve the job.”

Negative criticisms from subordinates need to be analyzed for their validity. If valid, the mature leader will address it by changing the way they do things, or getting some additional coaching. If invalid, the best response is to accept it as part of the work environment and move on.

Bonus tip: When you don’t get something right, share it with your team rather than sweeping it under the rug.

Dealing With Resentment

If negative criticisms from subordinates will challenge the communications skills of any new manager, the resentment of a colleague who has been passed over for promotion to the same position is in another order of magnitude. 

“It’s important for the manager to understand that a colleague denied the new position may feel disappointed, hurt, or even angry,” said Maddock. “The best approach is to begin by acknowledging the situation and offering the individual the opportunity to voice any concerns or frustrations they may have.”

Pelletier advised disarming the colleague by asking for their help. In return, offer to help the individual in those areas where the newly promoted manager has the power to do so—perhaps by introducing them to opportunities to develop their skills through coaching or training. 

“Those conversations can be tough for a new leader,” said Maddock. “But they are important to put people at ease and acknowledge that you’re here to work together as a team.”

Bonus tip: New managers must learn to handle uncomfortable conversations with empathy, professionalism, and a focus on moving forward.

Socializing Carefully

If productivity can go south when new managers fail to appropriately address negative comments of subordinates, team dynamics can also suffer by inappropriate fraternization with former colleagues.

Perhaps the new manager’s former team was in the habit of occasional after-work socializing. Should the new manager continue to participate? 

The answer is not always straightforward, and very often the manager must make a judgment call.  “There’s nothing inherently wrong with going out with the people you used to work with, as long as everyone is still comfortable with the friendship,” said Chris Devany, President of Pinnacle Performance Improvement Worldwide. “At the same time, the new manager needs to realize that social relationships are going to be perceived differently by subordinates.”

Will those former colleagues be okay with hanging out with someone who is now their boss, or are they going to feel weird? If the latter, the social event will be an uncomfortable one. 

One problem is that colleagues may well start to feel as though they cannot be completely open with one another when someone from the management team is around. And the manager may also feel uncomfortable hearing any sentiments detrimental to the company.

“People who were formerly your peers need to understand they can’t tell you anything off the record, because managers have a reporting responsibility,” said Devany. “Any information about employee activities that seems improper or potentially illegal must be reported to upper management.”

Socializing with former buddies is made more difficult because not all former colleagues will respond to the altered social dynamic in the same way. “Dealing with the human element is always tricky,” said Theodorou. “You’re going to experience some who understand your new role and others who don’t.”

Bonus tip: Socializing with former peers is not a matter of changing who you are, but of understanding that you represent an organization both inside and outside of work.

Human-centered Leadership

The comments in this article reflect a universal theme: New managers must model their behavior to motivate and people. “Too often leaders get distracted by all of the technical responsibilities tied to their new position,” said Mull. “They get bogged down by schedules, reports, and the need to put out fires.”

In contrast, human centered leadership builds trust and rapport with employees. That helps build engagement, which drives productivity, which is ultimately what the organization needs to meet the objectives of all the stakeholders around the table.

“A manager’s number one job is to create conditions that let people thrive,” said Mull. “That’s the gig. That requires understanding what makes people tick, what they need to be at their best every day, and then going to work and fighting like crazy to provide it for them.”

Phillip Perry is an award-winning freelance writer and a regular contributor to Board Converting News. His byline has appeared over 3,000 times in the nation’s business press. Reach him at

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