Becoming a new manager can be a stressful experience. You go from being managed generally as an individual contributor to all of a sudden managing others. This change comes with a whole host of different expectations. Now you're not only in charge of your day to day responsibilities, but you also have to engage in all the behaviors and considerations that I've covered throughout this entire podcast.
That can be overwhelming for some people, especially if they aren't trained to be a manager. And that's the thing, in our own research, we found that 66% of managers, two thirds did not receive manager training when they first became a people manager. That is a staggering number. And in that same research, we found that individuals who received manager training when they first became a people manager were almost twice as likely to feel ready and prepared to be a manager than those who didn't receive training.
I don't want to focus on manager training specifically in this episode, but I wanted to mention all that to underscore the importance of preparing people to take on new roles, new position levels within their organizations, which also highlights the main focus of this episode, becoming a new manager is often quite difficult.
With that in mind, I want to explore some challenges related to being a new manager, but it's going to be done in a unique way. Rather than just me talking about a variety of challenges or relying on just one interview, this episode is a mashup. In other words, I'll be taking multiple people's voices in combination with my own throughout the episode.
The interviews I conducted in previous episodes were all about separate topics. However, during those interviews I asked everyone the same question: “What was the most difficult or challenging event or series of events that you personally overcame as a people manager?” Out of seven interviews so far, four responses specifically called out being a new manager as their most challenging time as a people manager. And coincidentally two responses revolve around the topic of overcompensation and two other responses revolve around becoming a manager among your peers and figuring out those relationships.
The Challenge of Overcompensation
When you become a new manager it's easy to want to dive in headfirst. It's also easy to swim straight into the deep end because you want to establish that you're the right person for the job. You want to show your direct reports and your own manager that you've got what it takes, that you have all the answers. Here's what Nicole Davies, Vice President of Learning Talent and Performance at Valet Living had to say about her own experiences.
It's funny that we, in my company, we're rolling out a first-time leaders new managers program. And so I have been asking all the leaders in my company, what kind of training did you get when you became a manager for the first time? Who taught you how to lead and what did that look like? And I'm sure you are not surprised to hear that most people received zero training. We just drop them into that leadership role or that manager role and assume that because they are an excellent an individual contributor and have a good mind that they're going to figure it out.
So I've been reflecting a lot on the who I was as a 24-year-old leader versus the leader that I am today, and I think that probably the phrase that sticks to me now the most is what matters more today than mattered then, and the answer is less. Okay?
So I know that seems like a crazy thing, what matters more is less, but I would hold on so tightly to outcomes. When I was a young leader, I felt like I had to prove my worth through harnessing all the horsepower of my team through micromanagement and through ridiculously high goals that we had to accomplish, and just really putting the full court press on my team to be able to deliver and deliver and deliver. And I didn't have any real time or patience for understanding the human that I was impacting in that process.
So now when I show up to work, in talking to my team, they will tell you, I say nothing and I ask everything, So for me, everything is about a question of what do we want? How can we be successful? What's important to you here? So instead of it being my will, my desire, my need to harness the horses and run at a million miles an hour, we may walk more slowly, but we're doing it as a united front. And it just creates a more inclusive environment. It feels better for the people on the team because they feel their own impact on the outcomes and deliverables. It's not just my initiatives and my desires, but it's a collective front.
I would like to say that I am a much healthier, happier human because of my ability to not have it be all about me and have it be about the “we” instead. And yet we still have ... I mean I'm sure you guys have looked at it, if you look online there's so few ... There's still not a lot of resources. This is an age old problem that we still haven't solved for folks because what does exist out there is exactly that, come to school, learn how to give performance feedback, learn how to be a good coach, learn how to promote and develop your associates – go! And as we know, management and leadership is so much more nuanced than that.
I think just the level of vulnerability that folks feel so uncomfortable showing when they're new because they feel like they have to be invincible, they need to have all the answers, they need to be able to tell everyone exactly what they need and how to do it. Instead of sitting back and going, I don't know or I'm good with us coming up with the collective answer of what that should look like. And I think it comes from I think a little bit of time and comfort in being in the role, but also just knowing that nobody wants to work for the person that has everything already all figured out or with that person. They want to be a part of something that's growing and going somewhere. And if you can be a leader that creates that environment, you're going to have success over and over again.
What resonated the most with me is when Nicole mentioned vulnerability. That people, especially new managers, often think they have to be invincible and all knowing. That kind of overcompensation is a recipe for disaster, because ultimately you're part of a team. As Nicole said, it should be we, not me.
Another form of overcompensation is described by Katie Strehler, Chief Human Resources Officer at Rehmann.
I went into a people manager role pretty early on in my first professional career, and I went into the role with the desire to make changes. And I can't tell you why, but it was my first instinct that, "Okay, I'm new to this role. I'm leading this group of people that were all older than me and I had never sat in any of their seats before." So there were obviously some barriers there just walking into the situation with that current setup, but I for some reason had this desire to just switch things up and do some things differently, and probably didn't have a whole lot of method to my madness.
So I did start changing some responsibilities around within the team, which had the opposite impact of what I was hoping for. They couldn't understand it because I didn't explain to them why I was making the changes. The jobs and the responsibilities that I shifted around were no longer leveraging the strengths that they brought to the table. So they weren't happy about what they were doing because they weren't able to utilize their strengths. And I didn't take the time to really get to know them as people and individuals, and what are your strengths, and what makes you tick, and what do you care about outside of the work environment. So I did not start off on the right foot.
And at that point it was like I didn't know what I didn't know. I didn't realize that these steps that I was taking was going to have the opposite impact of what I had hoped for. So I had a long road ahead to repair those relationships and get to a place where I did focus on them as people. I ensured that I took the time to understand the strengths that they brought to the table so I could ensure that the tasks and responsibilities on their plates match those strengths that they brought to the table.
But in looking back, that was probably the biggest misstep for me is making change before listening and understanding, and watching the impact that that had on the team. But I learned from it and I talk about it, and I talked to my team about it, my team that I have now and other people leaders, and help to coach them and guide them as to how that could have looked different and had a much more positive impact versus what actually occurred.
What Katie said is very similar to what Nicole said. It started with me, not we. However, Katie's challenge was taking the direction of making too many changes too soon without really knowing her team. The overcompensation was making changes just for the sake of change.
Both Nicole and Katie emphasized the idea that they started as people managers with big plans and ideas, whether it be through unrealistic goals or making large changes really quickly. But over time, they both realized the importance of mellowing out, of making management more about listening and understanding rather than dictating and micromanaging.
And in our own research at Quantum Workplace, employees were asked the question, “if you could give one piece of advice to new managers, what would that be?” The most common responses from both managers and non-managers was listen, learn, and communicate. So between our research and what was mentioned by Nicole and Katie, it would help new managers and their teams a lot if they took the time to frame situations as we, not me, and listen to, learn about, and communicate with their team members.
The second topic is about becoming a manager among your peers. So this one is pretty different from the previous challenge, whereas overcompensation is more about proving yourself at the expense of your team, this one is about personal and professional relationships. This is what Wendell Sherrell, Vice President of Human Resources at Aviat Networks had to say about that.
You know, I think it was the first leadership role. It was the first leadership role from the perspective of I was being elevated within a group of peers. So suddenly, I was identified as the team leader and I now had to start leading a group of people that I'd sat side by side for years. That was probably the most sort of challenging because I had to change how I was communicating and how I was behaving with people that in many cases were my friends. I was having to give performance feedback to people who were my friends or that relationship was changing. And that really felt uncomfortable going through that.
And so when I think back on my career and some of the things that I've done, it was that first role as a people leader and not feeling completely prepared, not feeling that I could easily give my former peers feedback, and direction, and coaching. I think that was probably the most challenging experience looking back at it. Yeah.
And how did you navigate those relationships after you elevated from peer to manager? Even those friendships or how you communicated with them, how did you overcome those struggles?
There are times I look back on those experiences with gratitude because I've learned a lot. I mean there were clearly times where I think the most learning that I had was when I didn't handle situations well, when I forgot what my role was and I was more concerned with the friendship. I would have a tendency to worry too much about that, and things just had a tendency to sometimes not be as effective as it could be.
And I didn't realize that my manager could have helped me more. I think there was an opportunity for me to ask more questions. An example of that would be if there was a message coming down, and it was going to be uncomfortable, there were clear situations where I could've spent a little more time with my management, say "Help me think through how I want to deliver this." I would just go out and deliver it, and then learn. And so I felt sometimes it was a bit trial by fire. But I think looking back at my career, that was probably the most uncomfortable, that experience.
Another very similar situation is described by Lisa Roberts, Senior Director of Human Resources and Leader of Diversity and Inclusion at Deltek.
So I think the most difficult challenge that I've overcome is, as an individual contributor and moving to a people manager of peers, because if you think about ... You have this individual role, you have these friends that you've made, you're on the same team, but the opportunity presents itself, whether you're promoted or your manager leaves and you step into that role, and maybe the things that you once said or the things that you did are very different when you start managing your peers. And that level of respect becomes a little bit different. And I think as ... I always say that sometimes inheriting a team is probably the most difficult things as a people manager because it might not be the team that you would have selected and you're trying to make it work to be the most effective relationship that is critical to, one, the success of your own manager being, but also to the success of those individuals.
And I think any person who goes from once being an IC to managing their peers is a really challenging transformation. And I think that one of the things that probably really helped me out during that is the strong relationships that I had already developed with those peers and being humbled at the opportunity to move into the people manager role. But also understanding that there was going to be a little bit level of a change and being very open and candid with each individual to let them know while somethings will change, just because my role is changing, our relationship will not. And hopefully that it will continue to grow in a different way. And recognizing that I might not have all those answers, but that we will learn together.
And so I always say I'm always trying to empower my team to one day take my job, and people say, "Why would you do that?" And it's like because I want to move on from that opportunity and make myself better and hopefully, they have that same mission in mind. And I look at being a manager as definitely a gift. And I don't take it for granted at any time because my team is really the ones that makes the job so special.
What I got out of those challenges is that can be uncomfortable to all of a sudden go from a level playing field with a friend to being their manager. Changing how you communicate with them, behave around them and even act toward them around others. And it's a difficult tight rope to walk. You don't want to lose your friend, but you don't want to be seen as having favorites or giving preferential treatment because of your previous and continued relationship with a team member.
I liked what Lisa had to say about navigating those relationships, that you need to be open with each team member with the fact that things will change and that even though the friendship will remain, it'll likely change and evolve in a different way. Or as Lisa put it, letting team members, especially your friends, know that we will learn together.
As a recap of this episode, I explored two challenges of becoming a new manager. The first revolved around overcompensation. In this case, overcompensating how much you do and how much you want your team to do in a very short amount of time. One way to overcome this challenge is to focus on listening to your team members feedback, learning about their lives, their strengths, their concerns, and communicating with them openly and actively.
The second challenge revolved around becoming a manager among your peers. One way to overcome this challenge is to ensure that you have open and honest conversations with your team members, especially those who are closer friends, that your friendships will remain even though your relationship may evolve differently than had you remained peers.
And that's it for this podcast. For more resources to transform the way you manage, checkout quantumworkplace.com. Thank you for listening.