new manager

5 Must-have conversations for a new manager to succeed

Whether you’re a senior leader promoting someone into a management role, or you’re an HR advisor helping with that process, here are 5 conversations to have with that new manager to help them succeed.

One of the steepest hills any of us ever climb in our career ascent is the one from “worker” to “manager.” While it’s long and steep, it can feel like you passed it in an instant when suddenly you’re given the title of “Manager.” Unfortunately, that promotion merely means you’re far from the summit.

As leaders, here are the five conversations and talking points that help a new manager acclimatize to a leadership role:

1. The “it’s time to develop an abundant mindset” conversation

There are many ways to build an abundant mindset, which is very beneficial for leaders.

Managers need to shift from a fixed mindset – avoiding problems, thinking there’s a right way and a wrong way and thinking mistakes are always bad – to tackling problems, knowing there are many ways to get from A to B and that mistakes are a way of learning what works and what doesn’t.

Components of this conversation might include:

Coaching them to prepare: Try asking open-ended questions like – What are you most afraid of in this new management role? What can I do to help with that?

Mentoring: Tell them about a few mistakes you made as you learned to manage others, particularly ones related to their own circumstances.

Coaching them through the inevitable errors: Try asking questions like – What did you learn from the experience? What would you do differently next time?

Having an abundant mindset allows a new manager to manage people and inspire them to action rather than dictate tasks and micromanage outcomes (the difference between being a leader and a boss).

2. The “you’re going to be building a new skill set” conversation

New leaders are often promoted because of their technical skill. Perhaps they were a great writer on the policy team, they were a great widget maker on the factory floor or they were a great nurse on the ward. Continuing to rely on those skills they developed so well will now hinder them as a leader. They’ll be tempted to “do” rather than to lead. They will typically second-guess how others accomplish the goals.

Help them shift to thinking about their new responsibilities and the tasks that come with them – i.e., supporting others, developing others and guiding others.

Coaching them to lead: Questions that are helpful might include – What are your priorities for the first few months? What do you want or need to learn? What is essential in the team processes versus what is essential with the team’s goals?

Coaching them about the people aspects of leadership: Ask things like – How do you like to communicate? How do your staff? Which members of your staff are influenced by facts and figures and which are influenced by people and ideas? How can you become more aware of your staff’s preferences?

3. The “your work relationships need to change” conversation

Those folks who have been promoted up into a managerial or leadership role face one of the toughest situations as a new manager: Their former colleagues are now their staff.

Help them maneuver their way through that change while minimizing politics, drama and interpersonal conflict. Help them focus on owning the role while respecting their staff.

Mentoring: Share with them the positive experiences you had in shifting relationships when you transitioned from peer to manager. Acknowledge for them some of the challenges you had, and how you dealt with them (good or bad — they can learn from both).

Coaching: Ask them about things like – How will you approach realignment conversations with former peers? What do you understand about your former peers’ jobs and what they need to learn?

4. The “how to become comfortable delegating” conversation

Many new leaders are uncomfortable in the role. Most of us try to stick to what we know and what we’re comfortable with. So, many new leaders try to keep doing some of the work they were doing before. They’ll tend to think, “it’ll be faster if I do it myself.”

Learning to delegate effectively is important for leaders and their teams.

Helpful components for this conversation include things like:

Teaching: Discuss the importance of delegating and the risks that come from not delegating. For example, trying to do everything results in the manager feeling overwhelmed (and perhaps resentful). At the same time, staff may feel demotivated. A leader who fails to delegate builds a culture of the leader solving all the problems, which increases the feeling of being overwhelmed and doesn’t help staff learn for next time.

Teaching: There are ways to figure out what needs your attention as a manager and what needs to or can be delegated. For example, we’ve discussed how to figure out priorities before, using the Eisenhower Matrix to illustrate what is urgent/not urgent versus what’s important/not important.

Coaching: Questions might be – What could you delegate now that might give someone on your staff a chance to learn and grow? What holds you back from delegating? What can you do to overcome that obstacle?

Mentoring: Share your own memories of learning to delegate. Talk about the times you thought, “It would be quicker/faster/better if I just did it myself!” and whether that worked in the short-term and the long-term.

Setting an example: Ask them for their feedback of you as their manager and demonstrate the helpfulness of upward feedback because good leaders benefit from being able to handle criticism. Remind them that when you delegate to them, you are providing them with opportunities that might be easier and quicker to do yourself – but you want them to grow.

5. The “bigger picture” conversation

As a new leader, another challenge that is often unrecognized is the need to shift focus from the work to the relationships. Because it’s not recognized, new managers aren’t usually prepared for this (and often don’t even have it on their radar!).

We have a saying around the Padraig offices that is a foundation for almost all of our work with leaders:

Your role, no matter what your job title, is “Relationship Manager.”

Helping a new manager succeed involves helping them figure out the relationships they need to manage and how they’re going to do that. Shifting from doing the work to managing the team of people who do the work is a big one, but often there’s more – relationships with other managers, with clients and stakeholders – possibly even public opinion makers, the media, politicians and board members. The importance of this can be absolutely overwhelming and can often also be overlooked by those whose last role was to focus on making or doing.

Once again, a combination of coaching the new leader as well as guiding, mentoring and teaching will help them learn this new aspect of their work and to excel at it.

Coaching: Ask questions such as – Who do you need supporting you to be successful in this role? Who is relying on you most for the decisions you make and the outcomes your team delivers? Who has a stake in your work, and who will be upset if things don’t go well?

Mentoring: Share examples of times you managed to succeed by having built a relationship or having turned a foe to an ally. Share with them, too, the times things went off the rails for you in part because you hadn’t built a solid relationship with someone.

Teaching: Help them understand the structure of the organization, introduce them to the people they need to know and remind them when a relationship is important to the goals.