Core skills for new managers

Senior leaders struggle to provide new
managers with the operating framework they need to make sense of the
world they face when stepping up from subject matter expert and individual contributor
to the realm of management and leadership.

“The challenge for new managers is to be
able to work effectively in differing contexts
that sometimes occur in the same day, for different lengths of time, with different priorities or risks attached,” says Richard Egan,
senior consulting partner, The Ken
Blanchard Companies®. “The result is that
new managers, with good intentions at heart,
do what comes naturally or imitate the leadership style observed in other leaders.”

Smart Business learned more from Egan
about three key contexts faced by new managers and described in the book, “Achieve
Leadership Genius,” by Drea Zigarmi, Susan
Fowler and Dick Lyles. Egan explained why
new managers must understand that who,
what, where and when you manage and lead
should determine how you manage and lead.

What challenges are faced by SMEs moving
into management?

An individual worker or team member
focuses primarily on his or her job at hand.
That job is usually one in which he or she has
received extensive training and is a proven
subject matter expert. These workers also
are passionate about their chosen field. On
becoming a new manager, they often find
themselves in fast-paced, changing circumstances — or changing contexts — in which
they are required not only to continue to
manage themselves effectively but to also
manage others and lead.

What happens to new managers in the leading self context?

Self leadership is about having the skill and
the mindset to accept responsibility and take
the initiative for succeeding in your work-related role. The self context is the one in
which new managers are most familiar as
they have been excelling as individual contributors before their promotion. However,
the challenge now is to use and apply the
skills of being a self leader to the new role of
manager and leader. These skills include
aligning their personal mission, creating a
personal performance plan that includes
clarity of ‘key responsibility areas’ and goals,
identification of needs for direction and support, and effective management of time and
energy so performance and satisfaction are
maximized. Self leaders also seek out a mentor relationship to help navigate the path forward. One common challenge for the new
manager in the self context is to juggle new
management and leadership responsibilities
while continuing to make individual contributions as a subject matter expert.

When must new managers first handle more
complex interactions?

This occurs in the one-to-one context. It’s
more complex as it involves interacting with
others who may be similar to or different
from the new manager in terms of personality, skills, needs and motivations. A new manager may be required to perform various
roles depending upon the needs of others
and the immediate situation. The roles could
include supervisor, teacher, coach, mentor or
friend. Key skills in this context include: the
ability to clarify roles, priorities and performance standards of others; impart knowledge
and develop skills of others; manage the performance of and give feedback to others; and
have challenging conversations with others
when performance or behavior is not on
track. A typical challenge the new manager
faces in this context is to work effectively
with others who were former peers, colleagues and friends. Moving from being one
of the ‘gang’ to being the leader is sometimes
a tricky transition that requires thought,
intent and skill.

What is the most difficult context for new

The team context is exponentially more
complex. Here, the new manager is asked to
galvanize a number of individuals all potentially with different personalities, skills,
needs and motivations to achieve a common
purpose. The focus is collective and the new
manager has to work on maximizing two
group constructs — team productivity and
morale. A variety of roles may need to be performed including those of trainer, facilitator,
mediator and cheerleader. Key skills include
the ability to provide a team with structure
such as purpose, tactics, norms, methods of
communication, and the ability to manage
group dynamics and manage effective meetings — both face-to-face and virtual. A common challenge new managers face in the
team context is to lead cross-functional
teams. This requires the manager to negotiate resource allocation from different departments, manage the performance of individuals on the team who report to a different
function manager and develop the team as a
whole when members’ allegiances may lie
with their individual functions.

How can new managers increase their
chances for success?

For new managers, developing effectiveness in the self, one-to-one and team contexts
is the priority. If they can first diagnose the
current context in which they are operating
and then have a number of relevant skills to
deploy, they will increase their chances of
managing and leading effectively.

RICHARD EGAN is a senior consulting partner with The Ken Blanchard Companies in Escondido. Reach him through The Ken
Blanchard Companies Web site at