Here’s a common situation in American businesses. First-time manager Sara happily took on a leadership role. Yet she was promoted with little or no leadership training. Four months in, she’s anxiously overseeing a team of workers who question her decision-making and ability to navigate and reduce office conflict. Overwhelmed, Sara struggles to provide useful feedback and support productivity. Her team is frustrated and stressed; some of them are even considering leaving the company. Sara may move on too.
Similar scenarios play out in too many organizations when first-time managers are hired without training in the skills they need to succeed. According to research from Chief Learning Officer, individuals often become leaders because they have the technical expertise. Or they are high-performers. Or, simply, they were the ones that asked for the promotion. But that doesn’t mean they have the attitude or behaviors that will support a successful transition to a managerial role.
Many organizations expect new leaders to “sink or swim” while underestimating how stressful the transition can be. Let alone, when that first-time manager lacks understanding of how to engage and motivate employees and what all leadership entails.
With one in four managers reporting that they “never received any management training at all,” Oji Life Labs wanted to explore the impacts. Our research, conducted with 2,066 American adults by Harris Research in June 2023, represents one of the deepest investigations of the skills and impacts of first-time managers.
The Oji Leadership Poll found that 4 in 10 employees felt “stress or anxiety about going to work” due to a first-time manager. Additional findings add to the unfortunate picture of what it’s like to work with a first-time manager:
Significant skill gaps for managers have real business and human costs. Oji found 4 in 10 workers rated their first-time managers as weak at “reducing conflict”, “handling difficult situations”, “providing quality feedback”, “running a productive meeting” and “making decisions.”
Yet, the Association for Talent Development research found “only 40 percent of companies provide formal development programs for first-time managers.” Additionally, “only 38 percent of respondents identified first-time managers who are having problems.”
These “untrained leaders often struggle in many areas, compromising the productivity and agility of their teams in these very competitive times,” said Dr. Linda Hill, Harvard Business School professor and best-selling author of Being the Boss, whose work underlies Oji’s learning program for new managers, Oji Foundations.
Worse still, the untrained leaders who survive the past two years in their role often carry on “with negative leadership habits that impede their effectiveness for the rest of their careers,” Hill said.
While there is no quick fix for ineffective leadership, the good news is that it’s not too late to act. New leaders, employees, and your business overall can all benefit from leadership that encourages, motivates, and aligns everyone around your organization’s goals and mission.
Expecting new managers to develop unaided the key skills needed to have a real positive impact is unrealistic. Instead, try the following to position people new to leadership for greater success.
Developing new managers should start with open, honest communication about the challenges of the leadership role. Globally, the Center for Creative Leadership has found the top six most common hurdles for leaders are:
Managers can’t acquire the credibility, confidence, and trust needed to meet these challenges without help.
New managers often have misconceptions about what skills and behaviors will benefit them most as leaders. Some think that authority comes automatically. Or that their technical know-how will distract from their inability to communicate or listen actively. Or they might take team compliance as a given without considering how to encourage collaboration and team culture.
Any of these misguided ideas can set new managers off on a difficult path from the start. Leadership training and coaching can focus on how to identify and leverage individual talents while cultivating a group culture that treats everyone fairly.
Even organizations that offer new manager development often take an inconsistent approach. They might offer an initial training workshop or assign a mentor for the first few months. Yet continuous learning and ongoing support will have much greater value to the first-time leader.
Successful leadership development programs focus on whole-person growth. Tactical skills will help a leader but, the attributes that continue to translate into leadership that engages and motivates employees and inspires innovation and productivity are more internal.
Self-awareness, resilience, reflection, and empathy are characteristics that separate successful leaders from the rest. Yet these can’t be cultivated in a one-day workshop. They require regular practice, ongoing learning, and an openness to feedback.
First-time managers are likely your organization’s largest group of leaders. Don’t expect them to intuit how to create a collaborative environment and leverage emotional intelligence. Provide the tools and coaching needed to support their transition into the new role.
Improving the caliber of leadership in your organization requires commitment and intentional effort. The alternative? Workers leaving. Managers quitting. Or continuing to promote ineffective leaders to your business's bottom line detriment.
Provide the foundation your people need with Oji Foundations. Our complete solution helps newer managers build mastery in seven key areas: leadership; management; listening; feedback; diversity, equity, and inclusion; emotional intelligence; and decision-making. Start your first-time managers on the path to leadership mastery today.