First-time managers face a unique set of challenges when they make the switch from individual contributor to team leader. No longer able to rely on the skills that earned them the promotion, many new leaders feel alone as they navigate a new landscape that requires new skills.

It’s exhausting, and many first-time managers derail.

In research conducted at CCL, William Gentry, author of Be the Boss Everyone Wants to Work For: A Guide for New Leaders, found that 50% of managers in organizations are found to be ineffective.

Gentry’s research points to 4 key areas where first-time managers struggle the most:

  • Communication
  • Influence
  • Ability to lead teams
  • Development of others


How First-Time Managers Can Avoid Burnout

To avoid burn-out in their new positions, first-time managers must build their skills in these 4 areas.

1. Communication: More Than Words

Communication between managers and direct reports happens on multiple levels but can be divided into 2 main areas — verbal and nonverbal. In his book, Gentry explains that 65–93% of the total emotional interaction between individuals is nonverbal.

Some of the many ways we constantly communicate without words include:

  • Time management – The way managers spend their time tells their team about their priorities.
  • Appearance – The way managers look and dress communicates how they feel about themselves and the amount of effort they’ve put into preparing for work.
  • Gestures and posture – Even “resting” body language expresses information.
  • Facial expressions and focus – Do managers make appropriate eye contact to show others they are interested in what they have to say? Do their expressions change to mirror the information they’re hearing?
  • Articulation and volume – How clearly and loudly a manager speaks affects how they are interpreted by others.

Successful managers pay attention to how they are perceived by others and adjust their communication signals to match employees’ needs.

For example, a soft-spoken manager in charge of a loud, vivacious team may have to learn to project his or her voice simply to be heard, as well as adjust body language to convey stronger authority.

Managers who aren’t aware of how they communicate on all levels have trouble connecting with their employees and, ultimately, motivating them.

Gentry writes, “Even the smallest, faintest nonverbal signal or behavior that is not aligned with the conversation, situation, or words can confuse your audience, lessen your credibility, and your coworkers’ confidence, faith, and trust in you as a leader.”

2. Influence: Getting Others to Go Along With You

Successful managers know that a title alone isn’t enough. They must be able to influence their peers, direct reports, and upper management to get things done.

And since each person is influenced differently, effective leaders switch approaches depending upon their audience.

Some people are convinced by logic, facts and figures, and rational arguments. Others respond to emotional appeals — how their decisions will affect those they work with, their beliefs, or their own lives.

Many people are convinced by a leader who works alongside them to accomplish a common goal.

Leaders stuck in the “individual contributor” mindset will be unable to put their personal preferences aside and use their influence to get work done and gain resources for their team.

3. Leading Teams

According to Gentry’s research, 43% of first-time managers have trouble building and leading teams.

Failed leaders tend to work in a vacuum, getting the job done but not taking time to foster relationships with their team members.

Effective managers think more broadly — they provide direction on shared goals, make sure each person knows what’s expected of him or her, and follow-up with individuals to sustain team commitment.

4. Developing Others

Failed “lone wolf” managers focus on their own growth, rather than on that of the team. Successful managers, however, know that taking time to develop employees benefits the whole company.

They employ proven strategies such as:

  • Giving frequent and effective feedback to promote successful behaviors and stop ineffective ones.
  • Delegating tasks so the team is more productive and members gain new skills.
  • Helping develop others’ existing skill sets.
  • Creating challenging yet attainable goals for team members.

Winning leaders know that their success depends on how well they know their team members.

They’re able to convey a sense of authority, capability, and genuine support for their direct reports.

Read more about 12 hurdles first-time managers face in our article, First-Time Managers Must Conquer These Challenges.

For help overcoming these challenges, CCL’s Maximizing Your Leadership Potential program develops the perspective, knowledge, and practical skills that first-time managers need to effectively lead others.

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