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Ordinary People Taking Action
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Eight years ago, Jason arrived home to tell his wife, Jessica, that he had been promoted to Group Manager. He didn’t really want the manager role, but was talked into it. Because he was the top performer — exceeding his quota by an average of 165% the last two quarters — it was assumed he’d be a great manager as well.
Jessica had been a manager for several months already and recalled the “Manager Immersion Boot Camp” that she recently went through at her Fortune 500 company. One of her colleagues had commented, “Any training with “immersion” and “boot camp” in it means the participants will probably be inspired during the training — but once back at their desk forget everything they learned. Too much information, with not enough application, is usually the problem.” What proved to be true was that Jessica couldn’t remember the tips she’d learned as Jason prepared to be “the manager” the following day in the office. She did however, give him the business card of her professional coach.
Top individual contributors are promoted to manager roles more often than we realize. Seemingly overnight, they have a bigger title, higher salary, more visibility, more responsibility and more pressure — with little training, coaching and support.
I have coached many, many new managers. Almost all the new managers I work with reveal how difficult it is to transition from being an individual contributor, sometimes even friends of peers, to the next day being “the manager”. They share the challenges they face in setting clear expectations, creating space for a team to learn and grow, improving productivity and maintaining a fulfilling culture. I almost always respond by saying that management is a tough job — if you let it be. I then quickly remind people of the difference being “managing” and “leading”.
Managing occurs when we are in charge. We regulate and supervise — have people work for us. Leading is when people work with us and follow us.
Jason wrote as fast as he could, taking notes on “what makes a great leader”.
“Great leaders can be cultivated to meet and exceed our high expectations of them.”
“Leaders must know what people expect of them, manage those expectations and develop into the person who can perform against them.”
“Leaders should set clear expectations, create transparency and show no biases.”
“Focus on engagement, accountability, direction and execution.”
“Be approachable – great leaders show vulnerability, are relatable, maintain trust.”
In my time working with new managers, I often hear about manager on-boarding experiences similar to both Jessica and Jason’s – each the extreme. Jessica was thrown into “immersion”, a situation in which she struggles to remember all the information that is thrown so quickly her way. Conversely, Jason was promoted and virtually left alone to figure things out.
Several years after his promotion, Jason contacted me. This is what he had to say:
“Thank you. I am so grateful that Jessica had your contact information when I first was promoted to Group Manager. I was just recognized for my strong leadership skills – with the biggest promotion offer I have ever received. I don’t believe I would have been this successful without your support, help and encouragement. You’ve been a big piece of my network, of my success. And, the best part …. I like being a leader and a manager —both. I understand the difference, thanks to you.”
Everyone should have a chance to succeed, just as Jason did. Professional coaching shouldn’t be reserved only for the executive team. Often, it’s the new managers who really need – and can benefit the most – from coaching.
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