New Managers Need Leadership Training. Here's How to Help.

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  • February 14, 2018

Managers are the nation's "most neglected employee," according to Root Inc., a strategy execution firm. In fact, in its survey of U.S. workers, Root found that only 28 percent of employees felt their organization prioritized investments in manager training programs.

Organizations can’t afford to neglect managers, especially new ones. Failing to set new managers up for success with leadership training creates more work for HR departments. Conflict resolution, complaints, and performance reviews fall under the broad category of “putting out fires,” and complaints about managers are among the top reasons for voluntary employee resignation—which means even more work for HR departments and costs for the organization

New managers need leadership training. And HR professionals can help new managers—and themselves—by playing an active role in it.

Leading and Managing Others is a New Experience that Requires New Skills

Research from best practices and technology consulting firm Gartner indicates that about 60 percent of frontline managers underperform in their first two years, resulting in employee turnover across the entire frontline. The reason? Organizations aren’t setting new managers up for success with structured leadership development programs.

Author and researcher William Gentry calls the phenomenon a “raw deal” for new managers in his book Be the Boss Everyone Wants to Work For. Organizations promote young employees because of their technical skills, expertise, and accomplishments as individual contributors. However, new managers quickly discover that those skills don’t fully equip them for leadership roles—and the vast majority don’t even receive formal training.

As more millennials advance into leadership positions for the first time, it’s critical that HR managers engage them in leadership development programs. Best-selling author and leadership expert Ken Blanchard writes that training curriculums should focus on two core areas: communication and discussions related to management topics. “Every interaction you have with an employee moves that relationship in a positive or negative direction,” Blanchard writes. “We believe the quality of a relationship over time is a result of the net impact of all the different conversations that have occurred.”

New Managers Face Change, But Shouldn’t Change Themselves

A survey conducted by Robert Half Management Resources found that the second most challenging part of being promoted to a management position is supervising friends and former peers. In Managing for People Who Hate Managing, best-selling author and management consultant Devora Zack describes the difficult transition as going from “being one of the gang to being one of the one.” Although the transition can be difficult, the “Royal Rule” for new managers is to “be you,” Zack writes.

According to Zack, HR managers can help ease the transition by encouraging new managers to be the “same friendly, supportive person” with their colleagues that they’ve always been. The key to grooming effective managers isn’t getting them to change who they are—it’s helping them find the best ways to use their personality traits to lead. Zack notes that leadership tools should equip new managers to motivate their colleagues to “do good instead of to feel good.” New leaders should also learn to work toward consensus with colleagues. The caveat, Zack writes, is that it’s more important for people to feel a sense of fairness and that their point of view is seriously considered than it is for them to win a debate.

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The “be you” rule applies to introverts, too. About 50 percent of the population and 40 percent of executives are introverts, best-selling author and consultant Jennifer Kahnweiler notes in Quiet Influence. It’s “exhausting, unsustainable, and ultimately ineffective” for them to act like extroverts when placed in a leadership role, even though they often feel pressured to do so. Instead, they should use their introversion to their advantage. How? Talking to people one-on-one rather than in groups or learning to project quiet contemplation as confidence instead of hesitation can be powerful for introverted leaders. Leadership training that teaches introverted managers to leverage their “natural, quiet strengths” will make them more effective influencers, Kahnweiler writes.

Help New Managers Become Armchair Psychologists

A study by Harvard Business Review found that employees who feel respected by organizational leaders are 55 percent more engaged and have 89 percent more job satisfaction—but 54 percent of employees don’t feel respected.

Kahnweiler sums up the challenge for new managers in another book The Introverted Leader. Kahnweiler’s wisdom applies to introverts and extroverts alike: “People want you to treat them as more than cogs in a wheel. They want to matter. By being genuine and showing a sincere interest in people’s top-of-mind issues (both personal and work-related), you build trust and honest communication.”

When facing various deadlines and milestones, it can be easy for new managers to stop viewing their peers as people—but that’s a mistake.

Organizational development scholar and expert Edgar Schein writes in his best-selling book Humble Inquiry that “in an increasingly complex, interdependent, and culturally diverse world, we cannot hope to understand and work with people from different occupational, professional, and national cultures if we do not know how to ask questions and build relationships that are based on mutual respect and the recognition that others know things that we may need to know in order to get a job done.” Effective leadership development programs should teach new managers the art of humble inquiry, which Schein describes as “asking questions to which you do not already know the answer ... building a relationship based on curiosity and interest in the other person.”

Create Mile Markers for New Managers

In Managing, management expert and scholar Henry Mintzberg writes that the “inherently open-ended nature of the job” is one of the biggest adjustments for new managers. Because the manager is responsible for a unit’s overall success, her job is never done. As a result, Mintzberg writes, there are no “tangible mileposts” where she can pause and reflect once the job is finished.

HR directors can play a major role in helping new managers embrace their changing role. Regular check-ins can be scheduled to serve as the “tangible mileposts” that Mintzberg describes. Check-ins should accomplish the following:

  • Incorporate the new manager’s supervisor into check-ins
  • Allow new managers to reflect on what’s going well
  • Encourage new managers to identify areas they would like to address
  • Recognize the new manager’s professional growth and development
  • Reiterate the value of the new manager to the organization

There is an added benefit to check-ins: New managers should be holding similar meetings with their employees, and these check-ins with HR can serve as both a reminder and a blueprint for how to manage effectively.

Summing Up Leadership Development for New Managers

New managers need leadership training to set them up for success, and HR directors can help take the reins. Training programs that help new managers learn leadership skills can ease the transition and help burgeoning leaders navigate changing relationships with peers. New managers need to learn how to motivate and lead others without changing who they are, as well as how to establish and maintain meaningful personal and professional relationships with peers. Finally, regular check-ins can serve as “tangible mileposts” for new managers to reflect on their new roles and chart their future professional development goals. 

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