First-Time Leaders

I’m alone in this; it’s solely my responsibility.  Asking for help is showing weakness.  Asking for guidance and input is proof I’m not worthy of being a manager.

These are only a few of the lies many first-time managers tell themselves.  And, believing the lies, they suffer in silence.

A first-time manager client recently shared with me that she feels intimidated by one of her direct reports.  Like many first-time managers, she shifted from working as a peer and friend to managing those who had been her peers.  Most of her team supported her promotion, but one particular person’s attitudes and actions made the transition extremely difficult. 

Not knowing how to address the situation herself, which questions to ask to get help from senior leadership, or whether asking for assistance was even acceptable, this first-time manager allowed the direct report’s poor behavior and confrontational attitude, and the resulting tense relationship to go on for over two years.  Looking back, my client wished she had reached out for help right away rather than, as she now sees, suffering in silence. 

The clarity we get from the proverbial 20/20 hindsight doesn’t have to be the painful experience of constant “woulda, coulda, shoulda” self-recrimination.   As she reflected, my client recognized areas where she allowed pride, fear, and lack of confidence to cancel her need and desire to seek counsel. 

I hear from a number of first-time managers about their silent suffering, and it’s almost always based on their inexperience at the job, the fear of asking for help, or what questions to ask even if they had the nerve to do so.  How do we stem the tide? 

  1. Develop employees’ “people” skills before promoting them into leadership positions. These skills include how to have difficult conversations, how to set expectations and hold folks accountable, emotional intelligence, and executive presence.
  2. Promote employees based on leadership skills and leadership potential, not just technical expertise. Employees have opportunities to show leadership potential in any position.  They don’t need authority or responsibility to show teamwork, project leadership, show respect for and trust in others, and willingness to take ownership of personal decisions, actions, and behaviors.  
  3. Provide monthly focused, intentional touch-point dialogs to discuss the personnel challenges (ex. behaviors, attitudes) specific to the first-time manager’s team and direct reports. Ask questions and listen intently.  Help them identify ways to approach various situations and, most importantly, to be responsible for their actions. 
  4. Hold them accountable for leading with grace, integrity, and immediacy. Encourage them to take immediate action, maintaining respect for the situation and the person. 
  5. Remind them that they are not alone and that asking is the first step to taking appropriate action.
  6. Support them. Support them.  Support them. Back them up on their decisions. 
  7. Reflect on recent situations to determine best path forward “the next time” the situation occurs.
  8. Finally, remind them that failing is acceptable, expected, and not to be feared. Many first-time managers simply refuse to make decisions, fearing they’ll get in trouble with human resources, be frowned upon by upper management, or lose their “friends” who may still be seen as peers. 

Seasoned leaders, you have an obligation and a responsibility to lead by example as well.  Holding yourself and other leaders to the same standards and the same consequences as those for inexperienced leaders shows your commitment to excellence.

I serve both first-time managers and executives leading organizations.  If you’re promoting from within but having issues with turnover, performance, production or quality, employee engagement, etc., let’s chat!  In a 30-minute call, I can help you determine the root cause of the situation and consider next steps to help your first-time leaders (and those who are seasoned-but-not-as-effective) grow into truly excellent leaders.


P.S.  Book a Complimentary Strategy Session so we can get you moving in the right direction; click on my Complimentary Strategy Session calendar link here and let’s book a time together so you can get started today!

P.P.S.  With over three decades of professional experience in corporate operations and executive human resources, I am a proven results-driven leader.  My expertise includes strategy, change management, talent management and organizational development, employee relations, and executive and leadership coaching.  I am a highly effective communicator and team leader with proven ability to build long-term relationships across internal and external customer environments built with integrity, confidence, authenticity, and trust.