First-time managers have a lot to learn.

Senior leaders and talent professionals know a frontline management role can be tough. They see new managers falter — or fail. Without an attentive boss and supportive organization, first-time managers are on their own. Some figure it out, but many don’t.

“A foundation of great leadership includes knowing yourself well, being able to read others accurately, and being flexible to different personalities and styles,” says CCL’s Maggie Sass.

Sass oversees our Maximizing Your Leadership Potential program, which is designed specifically for first-time and first-line managers. She says organizations can boost the leadership capability of their new managers by doing 3 things:

  1. Clarify the challenges of shifting from individual contributor to manager. Being the boss of people who were your peers is often a difficult change. Leading a team; engaging, motivating, and coaching others; building relationships; and finding constructive responses to conflict are common challenges. Influence and communication skills are essential. Self-awareness and the ability to understand the perspectives and needs of others are part of the mix.
  2. Provide knowledge and practical tools. First-time managers need a clear picture of their current leadership style, strengths, and weaknesses. But they also need a variety of tools in their new leadership toolkit. They may know they need to communicate or give feedback to direct reports — but what they’re doing may not be working. Trying new approaches rather than relying on what seems most obvious or easy is the only way to change and improve.
  3. Create continuity in learning. Help new managers go beyond the “a-ha moment” or one-off training. We’re always looking for ways to improve learning transfer — the ability to put what’s learned to use. In our programs, including Maximizing Your Leadership Potential, content and activities are tied to real-life needs and valuable skills. We also use processes like goal setting and action planning, follow-up coaching, online resources, and accountability partners to grow and maintain learning over time.


Organizations should look for similar strategies — be sure a new manager has a boss who’s capable of coaching and development, and that a mentor or coach is in place. Invest in training programs and initiatives that are connected to the challenges and needs of the leaders and the business.

Improving the caliber of leadership at the front line requires the commitment of each leader. But the organization and the boss need to light the way.

Want to learn more? Read about Maximizing Your Leadership Potential, our leadership program that develops the perspective, knowledge, and practical skills that first-time and front-line managers need to effectively lead others.

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