My very first management experience came in my early 20s. I was working for a large national mortgage lender. Thanks to the rapid growth of the company (ok, and maybe my ambition too) I shot up “the ladder” in a few short years. Prior to the promotion, I viewed “managing” as an opportunity to implement my ideas, take the team to new heights and of course prepare for the next rung on “the ladder.”
I had no formal managerial training so basic skills like coaching, delegation, and handling complaints were completely foreign to me. Add the fact that I was now supervising the same people that I used to work alongside-several of whom were older than me- and you’ve got a recipe for disaster.
Two weeks after the promotion became effective, my boss (and only support) left town on business leaving me to my own devices. All hell broke loose. Several team members came in late, blew off meetings, and mysteriously disappeared during the day. The icing on the cake was the eruption of a conflict between two team members resulting in an interoffice screaming match and near fist fight.
I was clueless on how to handle the situation. Clearly I was not ready for management at the time. It wasn’t the technical ability that was lacking; it was the leadership and people skills.
This experience is not uncommon. 85% of people promoted to management positions have little experience, no training and scant support. Because of those factors, it takes new managers an average of 8 years to develop the leadership and “soft” skills they need to be effective.
Most organizations do not have 8 years to invest and most new managers will burn out long before then. So, how do you fast track the learning curve for managers so that they achieve full effectiveness more quickly?
It is not uncommon for team members to be promoted to management positions because they have been on the team the longest, they are the top performer on the team, or simply because someone is leaving and it is convenient to fill the position with whoever is around. Planning will help you avoid these pitfalls.
Identify potential leaders early, develop their career paths and include them in the organization’s succession plan as applicable. Provide learning and growth opportunities (training, mentoring, job shadowing, etc.) that are aligned with the organization’s long term plan as well as the goals of the individual. This way you have a pool of talent on which to draw from when management opportunities arise.
Soft skills are just as important as technical skills in any leadership position. By soft skills I mean skills like self-management, active listening, problem solving, coaching and a strategic mindset. These are not necessarily intrinsic abilities, therefore the manager-to-be must be given every opportunity to learn and use these skills.
Leadership development programs, like those offered by Pathfinder Strategies, are helpful in cultivating leadership skills and expanding management abilities. Internal mentor programs are also helpful in developing these skills. Additionally, mentor programs provide valuable insight on strategic relationship building and administration. Job shadowing is another option that gives managers the unique understanding of the ins and outs of various leadership positions. Learning is key in all of these experiences however it is equally important to give future leaders the opportunity to practice their skills. Allow future leaders to oversee a project or make a key team decision and then handle the outcomes.
There is a common fear among managers that when the team experiences challenges it casts a negative light on them personally. Therefore many managers do not ask for outside help when they need it. Instead they do their best to hide the challenges from the eyes of senior leadership for fear that they will look incompetent or lose their job.
Even with the best support and training, no one is perfect. Effective management is a finely tuned set of skills that takes time and experience to develop. Keep the lines of communication with your managers open. Create a culture where managers feel comfortable sharing their wins and their challenges with each other and with senior leadership. Stress the fact that most mistakes are an opportunity to learn and grow. This approach sets up the manager up for success and relieves some of their stress so they can perform well.