Coaching for a First Time Manager

I once read a quote from Mark Twain in which he talks about a man being tarred, feathered, and run out of town as saying, “If it wasn’t for the honor of it all, I would have rather left town some other way.” This may be the sentiments of many first time managers when they realize the true nature of the manager’s job.

My client a young leader and a first-time manager was struggling to get his team motivated to meet their team goals. Let’s call my client Wilson. Wilson is a very committed and hard working individual and had always delivered to his management’s expectations. Year on year he would meet his individual goals. Last quarter , the company decided to reward him and hence promoted him as a team manager. Wilson was extremely happy and motivated to do even better. In his excitement, he did not realize that he has now to manage a team of six individuals ,some of whom were his peers all these days . He was now responsible for the team goals , team morale and all other responsibilities that come when you step up to be a manager.

The excitement from the promotion was short-lived , as Wilson began to experience the challenges of managing the team that worked for him. Demands on his time increased and the stress started showing on his work as he felt suddenly tossed with loads of management responsibilities. His team was not happy as they felt he did not delegate enough, he did not trust them and even if he did delegate , he would always be looking over their shoulder to check the work, he was not helping them to resolve issues among themselves and with the stakeholders ,etc .
Clearly, Wilson had to build a lot of credibility with his team before he could even think of achieving targets with them. He was suddenly in charge, but not been provided enough support to hone his leadership and team management skills. Wilson’s frustration and stress level grew and he began to wonder if he was fit for a manager role.

His manager sensing the dilemma referred him to me for 6-8 months of coaching.

Transitioning to a first-time manager role can be very difficult for a professional and an individual contributor. There has to be a complete mindset shift .

When I first met Wilson, he was stressed. He spoke at length of his ambitions, his achievements and why he thought his team should follow him as their leader. Somewhere I could sense that he was expecting the team to respect him and follow his command since he was the designated manager. He thought these powers come with the job.Some of his team members were elder to him in age and experience and probably wiser than him, they were the most difficult for him to manage.

Wilson had to transition his thinking and mindset from Individual achievement to Team achievement. He had to understand and relate to each individual in the team and spend time with them. He had to let go his present style of work and be more flexible, approachable and develop new ways of working. It was a shock for him to understand that while his hands-on approach and attention to details were reasons for him to get promoted . these were not sufficient for him to be a successful manager. A case of “What got you here , won’t  get you there”

Wilson was a sharp learner. While he went through cycles of anxiety uncertainty and feeling of being insecure during the transition phase, at no point in time, he was willing to give up. We started by his 360 assessment , which allowed him to understand the different perspectives his peers, subordinates, manager and stakeholders had about him. While it was difficult to accept all the feedback, he prioritized and picked feedback which he needed to work on immediately. He had to learn to “let go” and that is what he decided to work on first. We set goals and action plans for him which he was able to complete. He arrived at a strategy to implement his action plans. I provided him various case studies, role models, perspectives,at times challenged him and offered to be available to him if he wanted to discuss and have a conversation with me. Once his team knew that he was willing to change and let go his old style of work, they cooperated in his transition.

His biggest Ah-ha moment was when he and his team were assigned a complex time bound project and he was able to motivate the team to collectively work on the solution and deliver as expected.

His managers decision to get him a coach to help him navigate through the tough transition was a key factor that contributed to his success. While our coaching engagement ended a couple of months back, Wilson continues to remain in touch with me . He seems to be making good progress. He has moved beyond his comfort zone.

For experiencing success , one has to keep practicing the art of management, learning new things, persevering till you know your game better .

“Champions keep playing until they get it right” – Billie Jean King.

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