The jump to first time management has the biggest failure rate of any leadership transition and it doesn’t take long to diagnose the problem. Despite first time managers, by their nature, having no experience in people leadership, senior and top management typically have leadership development budgets of somewhere between two and five times that of first time leaders (Deloitte, 2014).
In short, first time leaders don’t get enough support, which has its impacts. One of the biggest challenges faced by organizations today is retention of people, and one of the big reasons people leave is down to their impressions of their manager. First time leadership should be considered a key risk area for any organization. The Great Resignation isn’t just a catchy clickbait phrase, it’s an accurate summary of what’s happening in workplaces around the world.
And yet, this clear challenge doesn’t work itself out into reality as far as first time managers are concerned. That has its own logic behind it of course, and we’ll come back to that, but let’s take a moment to look at 3 ways that first time managers can be a great asset for protecting the future of an organization.
The move from individual contributor (i.e. ‘doer’) to manager is the most significant mindset shift most people have to make in their careers. The psychological difference between doing the right thing yourself and being responsible for others doing the right thing is a big one. The most predictable outcome from this is going to be underperformance, leading to a negative experience for the first time manager, who has probably had a very good experience of their performance at work to date (hence their promotion), and negative outcomes for the organization as well.
The answer to this challenge cannot lie in a handful of nicely animated instructional videos. Good leadership only comes through increased emotional intelligence and self awareness, both of which benefit greatly from experience and reflection. Coaching, as I’ll come back to, is a longer-term experience designed in a non-directive manner. For this reason, it’s perfect for these sorts of skills in a way almost nothing else is.
Reasons to leave
The idea that “people don’t leave bad jobs, they leave bad bosses” is nicely quotable, which ought to make us suspicious of it, and yet it turns out that one of the top three reasons people quit their jobs is down to their relationship with their manager.
And the inherent nature of a first time manager is that they don’t have any experience!
I remember applying for a job in my local shop when I was 16 and being told I didn’t have enough experience. I felt it was terribly unfair – how could I get experience if all the jobs need it? When I did eventually get a job, my employer treated me like the newbie that I was, over-explaining, repeating, and picking up on every missed detail to make sure I understood what was expected of me.
It would appear organizations don’t tend to treat first time managers like that, as if they will pick up their own managers’ good behavior through osmosis rather than develop leadership skills through targeted actions. Let’s come back to coaching. Particularly when it’s delivered as flexible as possible, coaching offers new leaders the chance to proactively reflect on what they’ve observed in others and in themselves, leading to new insights and better leadership behaviors.
The instinctive response for most organizations when faced with the fact that leadership development budgets are greater for senior and top managers comes down to impact. Who needs more support: the CEO, leading 50,000 people, or the new manager with only a couple of direct reports?
The answer comes at us from different angles, for example:
- First time managers have no experience.
- First time managers are generally managing the most unproven people in the business, while the CEO’s direct reports are going to be senior leaders in their own right
- Their direct leadership responsibilities in most cases will include the majority of people in an organization
Because first time managers are right at the coal face, a general trend in lots of organizations will be to end up with a large number of people who need the most hands-on support managed by them. As a result, if an organization wants to positively impact its people through leadership, the people to invest in should be first time managers.
The solution: democratize coaching
There’s no question that coaching is a helpful part of leadership development programs. That intuitively feels right – the highly personalized nature of coaching means that every recipient develops leadership skills that matter the most to them. And coaching has been reserved for the privileged few for too long.
Organizations wanting to maximize the productivity of their people, retain top talent, and position themselves for the future, should already be starting to introduce leadership development coaching as standard for first time managers. It will support the future of the organization, as rising stars shift identities away from individual contributors and towards people leaders. It will increase retention of staff, as they are led in positive ways. And it will boost overall productivity and decrease risk, as those on the ground are supported and challenged in the best ways by their new managers.