New Managers: Stop Bad Leadership Habits Before They Get Started

cute business babyNew managers aren’t getting the training they need when they first step up to leadership roles. For example, more than 40 percent of the people who attended the early pilots of The Ken Blanchard Companies’ First-time Manager classes had already been in management over two years by the time they attended class—and research by management consultancy Zenger Folkman found that the average manager doesn’t receive training until they have been on the job ten years!

That’s simply too late. Without training, undesirable managerial habits develop that prevent new managers from being as effective as they need to be. It could also be part of the reason why 60 percent of new managers underperform—or fail—in their first two years.

In a new article for Blanchard Ignite, Linda Miller, master certified coach and coauthor of Blanchard’s new First-time Manager program, says, “If left on our own, we continue to lean on our habitual behaviors. Even when we change roles or move into a new job or position, we still are inclined to fall back into familiar patterns.”

That can be a problem in the case of new managers, explains Miller. “They often bring their individual contributor habits or practices into the new role. In this case, they may repeat a pattern over and over again—even when it is not helpful or appropriate—simply because it is comfortable and familiar.

As Miller explains, “When coaching first-time managers, I often ask how much of their work could be delegated.  A new manager has to have a plan for accomplishing results through others. Many find it easier to keep doing a familiar task themselves than to have a conversation with a direct report who could take on the responsibility. Although it may be easier for them to just do the task, as a new manager that work is no longer part of their role.”

Creating a New Manager Curriculum

Instead of letting new managers take a trial-and-error approach that potentially leads to bad habits, Miller believes organizations need to create a new manager learning path. This begins with normalizing the idea that transitioning from an individual contributor role into management is a big change—and that it is normal for first-time managers to feel awkward or even paralyzed by all the new skills they need to learn.

Next, identify some of the gaps or differences between being an individual contributor and being a new manager. For example, early discussions could focus on situations where old habits may not serve the new manager or the organization well.

Replacing Bad Habits with Good Habits

Once new managers have examined their behaviors and found patterns that aren’t working in their leadership roles, the hard work begins—changing those ingrained behaviors. This requires interrupting the automatic responses, says Miller.

“As a coach, many times I will suggest to people that they take some time before they respond to a situation. For example, before saying yes to a request, the new manager might wait two hours to think it through.  Or we might discuss coming up with a question they can ask themselves that will interrupt the pattern.

Don’t Wait

Miller’s advice to organizations interested in identifying and developing new leaders is short and sweet. “Don’t wait. Start now. Preparing your high potential people for management early will pay dividends—now and in the future.

”It’s much easier to train and develop good leadership habits in the first place than to change undesirable patterns that have been deeply embedded. Identifying high achievers and beginning leadership training before they accept their first leadership role does the organization, as well as the aspiring leaders, a great service. It’s not what most organizations do, but it is a unique and promising approach—and a far superior option to trial and error.”

9 thoughts on “New Managers: Stop Bad Leadership Habits Before They Get Started

    • Hi Christoph–thanks for highlighting the need for leadership skills. Even though most of us know that new skills are necessary, the survey data continues to show that people promoted into leadership rarely receive the training they need until years later. No wonder such a high failure rate in the first two years!

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  2. All so true. Training is essential, and it must be immediate and consistent. However, there may be a step before leadership development and training for managers. It is the selection process used in moving one into a manager/management position. Too often this happens merely because it’s the next step on the ladder, reward for long-term service, the only way for a monetary increase and myriad reasons other than fact that the person has leadership and management skills. How many times have we seen this happen? How do we in #training help Talent Management professionals revamp the process?

    • Hi Madeline–great question. As a training/talent management professional we know that selection criteria is used when someone new is brought into an organization, but I’m guessing that the same criteria is not used as regularly for internal promotions. The thinking is probably that we “know this person” already. Does anyone use any type of selection criteria for internal promotions?

  3. One of the most courageous things I’ve ever witnessed was a mid-sized company with 5 locations in 4 different states that decided to fly every single one of their employees to their corporate headquarters for a 3 day vision casting, training and empowerment session.

    During these sessions, each group was asked to work on projects that would increase revenue or decrease cost with the hope of covering the costs of the program. Instead the company began achieving results that they had never dreamed of, so they continued to invest heavily in leadership training and in the development of every person at every level of their organization.

    • Hi Cheryl–great example of what can happen when an organization invests in its people. I think you’ve highlighted what many people point to when they look at engagement statistics–the idea that there is so much untapped potential inside the people working in any company. Thanks for the encouraging example!

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