4 Areas Where First-Time Managers Struggle

First-time managers face a unique set of challenges when they make the switch from individual contributor to team leader. (Learn more about 12 common challenges that first-time managers must conquer.)

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 fact, as noted in Be the Boss Everyone Wants to Work For: A Guide for New Leaders, 50% of managers in organizations are found to be ineffective.

Our research points to 4 key areas where first-time managers struggle the most:

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


How New Managers Can Avoid Derailment: Build These 4 Skills

To avoid failing in their new positions and derailing their careers, first-time managers must build their skills in these 4 areas.

1. Communication: Watch your verbal (and nonverbal) messages.

Communication between managers and direct reports happens on multiple levels but can be divided into 2 main areas — verbal and nonverbal. A staggering 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.

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: Adapt your approach depending on your audience.

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. Learn more about mastering the ways influence others.

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: Provide direction; follow up with team members.

According to our 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.

This is one of the key identity shifts that new leaders must make to succeed in their new roles.

4. Developing Others: Take time to nurture your team’s talents.

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:

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.

These are some of the 4 common areas where first-time leaders struggle and the key skills that new managers should focus on developing to avoid derailing their careers.

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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