First-Time Manager: The Challenges

Research conducted by the Center for Creative Leadership has identified a number of challenges that first-time managers (FTMs) have in common. You can read the full list here. I have chosen to focus on the top one because you could argue that the rest of the issues are all sub-issues that arise from the same overall challenge:

Adjusting to People Management: Displaying Authority

The FTM has been used to achieving results through a high degree of control over themselves. They set goals and manage their time and effort in such a way as to reach them. That's exactly what has drawn attention to them in the first place and is the reason they have now been promoted to their first management position.

But the way they control themselves is not going to work on others. They need to learn to switch from control to influence, which is an entirely different approach.

"If you knew how many times I have told them to do that."

But as they eventually work out, telling isn’t leading.

More than anything, it's a mindset shift. Understanding and accepting that you cannot control other people, you can only try to influence them. The degree to which you're successful in your influence will reflect back on how well you end up doing as a team. Ultimately, that will reflect back on your image as both a manager and a leader.

What does it take to influence other people?

First, the new FTM needs to understand that people do whatever they do because it is meaningful to them. The only way to get people to do something they consider meaningless is by forcing, threatening or bribing them. But none of these instruments produce particularly happy team members.

You need to focus on making whatever you're trying to do meaningful to them. One way to think about that is to use the DAC framework also developed by the Center for Creative Leadership. DAC stands for Direction, Alignment, and Commitment. The framework highlights establishing agreement on what you're trying to achieve as a team (Direction); coordinating and integrating the different aspects of the job so that everything fits together and serves the agreed direction (Alignment), and establishing a collective desire and responsibility to succeed in the task (Commitment).

In reality, what does DAC look like?

Now, you may be thinking that's all well and good on paper, but that must be really hard to achieve. How on earth does one do that as an experienced manager, let alone a rookie?

Actually, there's a cool process for that which I'll show you in the next blog post.

With a bit of practice, this will become second nature to you. You'll see a different kind of team performance as a result.


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Mike Hohnen, MBA is a coach, trainer, author and public speaker who supports leaders, managers and their teams in implementing the principles of the Service Profit Chain.

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