Common challenges for new managers

New managers should receive the proper training to minimize difficulties during the transition period.

Being promoted to a management position is a pivotal career moment for many professionals. Unfortunately, a large number of new managers are not properly prepared for the transition.

Many novice managers gained their new position by excelling in their previous position. Their past effectiveness likely granted them some degree of respect in the office, and many believe that in their new position, they will automatically gain more respect. However, this is not always the case. 

Many new managers are unprepared for the relationship tensions that can arise. When I became a manager for the first time, I was promoted over co-workers who were my friends. My supervisor told me that I could no longer be friends with my direct reports. That left me confused about how to manage these relationships.

For first-time managers, setting boundaries is important. I realized (although belatedly) that since I spent more waking hours with my direct reports than I did with my family, our relationships were a reality. It took some time but I eventually was able to define my expectations for "work friends" and manage myself in those relationships in a way that was professional. Cutting off from these relationships only leaves the new supervisor feeling more alone and the employees feeling their new manager is cold and distant.

It is also important for new managers to realize that not everyone will be entirely pleased with their ascension. There will likely be those who have more tenure at the position, are older or otherwise believed that they were a better choice to receive the promotion. It is important to avoid taking others' dissatisfaction personally. Remember: it is not personal. Finding the best way to open lines of communication will require some thought.

New managers are well served to focus on building an effective team. By making the team's shared goals and values clear, it is possible to foster allegiance to these ideals, rather than an individual. Other common pitfalls include buying into the following false ideas:

  • If I want it done right, I have to do it myself.
  • I have to have immediate answers to any questions asked by my direct reports.
  • I cannot have a bad day.
  • Supervisors should have all the answers.

Buying into these messages has negative implications for the new supervisor as well as for his or her staff.  Replacing these messages with more positive affirmations will be a first step toward success.

Novice managers are also often intimidated by the prospect of making changes to organizational processes or workflows. A desire not to "rock the boat" or cause discontent among team members keeps them from making changes they might otherwise make. However challenging, setting processes and making improvements is a key part of the role. Unnecessarily prolonging making these changes can actually frustrate team members who were anticipating change.

Organizations often underestimate the need for appropriate training when promoting an employee to a management or supervisory position. Even if a new manager excelled in his or her previous role, exercising such skills as proper delegation, prioritization and maintaining effective channels of communication requires new skill sets. Organizations that demonstrate a commitment to leadership training can help reduce the time it takes for newly promoted managers to get up to speed.