Beyond ‘Go Get ‘Em’: Helping New Managers Succeed

Newly promoted managers often encounter unanticipated difficulties, so here’s advice on helping new leaders succeed.

Phillip Perry

Does the following story sound familiar? A hard working employee—let’s call her Debora—proves herself a great sales producer and a real “go-getter.” When a supervisory position opens up, Debora seems the logical choice for the spot. Who else could better train the staff into a mean, lean selling machine?

Debora accepts the promotion with enthusiasm and everyone looks forward to great things. Alas, the anticipated revenue boom never materializes. In fact, sales start to soften. It’s no secret why: People hate working for Debora. The result is predictable: Productivity falls. Customers flee. Profits go south. Debora ends up jumping ship—and her erstwhile employer faces a costly and time-consuming rebuilding effort.

Promote Wisely

Debora’s story illustrates a lesson too often learned the hard way: An individual who excels in sales, technical operations or administrative tasks can easily fail when it comes to managing others.

In the integration industry, it’s basically “Rule No. 1” that a successful sales person doesn’t translate to also being a great, or even good, manager, says John Greene, VP of sales and marketing for West Chester, Pa.-based integrator Advanced AV. “Often the talents needed and the successes accomplished in selling don’t align with the disciplines to manage people.”

That phenomenon where the staff suddenly hated Debora is pretty common, Greene adds. “There often is a herd mentality that causes a dynamic of friction between the sales team and the newly promoted leader.”

It’s also common for companies to make the mistake of believing that exceptional employees that excel at service are ideal candidates for managerial positions, according to Richard Avdoian, founder and CEO of Midwest Business Institute, a consulting firm based in metropolitan St. Louis, Mo.

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“Unfortunately, such people often become just adequate leaders.” Avdoian suggests a more effective approach for assessing management candidates: “Look for employees with qualities that make great leaders,” he says. “Do they deal with people in an effective way? Do others like working with them? When they speak, do their colleagues listen? Do they rally others to complete tasks?”

Those questions suggest the importance of one personal characteristic: the ability to inspire others to great performance. And that ability, in turn, suggests the truism that transformational “leadership skills”—not the ability to manage discreet projects—are more important than ever in today’s work environment.

“New managers and supervisors need to understand the difference between managing and leading,” says Lois P. Frankel, a partner at Corporate Coaching International, Los Angeles. “Managing is about producing measurable outcomes; about controlling budgets and costs and work output. Managers tend to mandate policies and procedures that too often restrain new ideas from getting off the ground.”

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Leadership is different. “Leaders clear the way for great ideas to come to fruition,” says Frankel. “They inspire people to create change and meet challenges.”

Managing, while critical to getting tasks done, is less than effective when dealing with people, says Frankel. “You can manage the organizational process, but you must lead people.”

If you’re thinking that prospective leaders might be harder to find than nascent managers, you would be correct. “We often see strong managers,” says Frankel, “but seldom strong leaders.”

How to Spot the Leader

If promising leaders are scarce on the ground, it follows that you will need to sharpen your own skills for identifying them when they do appear. And that begins with an understanding of the specific characteristics of strong leadership.

“Great leaders possess transformational skill sets,” says Lauran Star, a business consultant based in Bedford, N.H. “You need to spot people who like change, who see issues well before they become problems, and who think outside the box and develop creative solutions rather than just putting out fires.”

Leaders are able to develop teams and have the discipline to manage themselves well. Such competencies might be assessed by many points of measurement. For example, the ability to develop teams might be assessed by the tendency to grant deserved recognition, to take a win-win approach to negotiating solutions, to play fair in judgement and action, to foster collaboration across different cross-functional boundaries and to manage and resolve conflict.