First-time managers face a unique set of challenges when they make the switch from individual contributors to leading others.

No longer able to rely on the skills that earned them the promotion, new leaders must develop additional abilities.

Without this shift in mindset and the proper training, 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.

What’s the difference between successful and unsuccessful managers? Gentry’s research has shown 4 key areas where first-time managers in particular struggle the most:

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


The success of any new manager depends on his or her ability to master these skills.

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:

  • Use of time–the way you spend your time tells your team what you consider a priority.
  • Appearance–whether we like it or not, our appearance communicates messages about how we feel about ourselves and the amount of effort we’ve put into dressing and grooming appropriately for work.
  • Gestures and posture–even “resting” body language expresses information whether you intend it to or not.
  • Facial expressions and focus–do you make appropriate eye contact to show others you are interested in what they have to say? Does your expression change to mirror the information you’re hearing?
  • Articulation and volume–how clearly and loudly you speak affects how others interpret you.

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.”

Influence—Or 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 the 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.

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.

Development of 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 the members of their teams.

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

For more information about creating successful managers, see Be the Boss Everyone Wants to Work For: A Guide for New Leaders, by William Gentry.

2 thoughts on “How First-Time Managers Can Avoid Flaming Out

  1. Kari Maddox says:

    Thank you for this insight! As a business owner growing to hire my first employee, I appreciate this article.

  2. Freddy Teo says:

    Developing team will benefit staff and motivate them with new skills as well.

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