Like most new managers, my first promotion was announced in an emailed organization announcement.
I was 25 years old and had no idea what I was doing. Once that email was sent, twelve people reported directly to me.
There was no manual to open, telling me how I should spend my first day, week and month. It was just an announcement and a growing sense of dread that I was in over my head.
Everyone on my team reacted to the news differently.
I have been fortunate to lead many teams and coach hundreds of new managers. In my experience, new teams can be split into four types of people (with some exceptions).
The first person to congratulate me was the only person on the team younger than me. He started two years after me out of college and I spent the last year mentoring him in his role.
He was fired up.
Why wouldn’t he be? His coach was now the boss and we had an established personal relationship. He knew that I had a vested interest in his career and I now had the authority to help him further.
He was The Advocate.
He understood that I was keenly aware of the obstacles he was facing, having worked in the same territory. I would be likely to attack those obstacles, making life easier for him.
My promotion meant that the company was willing to take chances on a young person without previous management experience. It gave him hope that his hard work would be rewarded, if he performed.
As a new manager, you find yourself talking to your Advocates frequently in the early days of your new role. They give you a pulse of how the team is receiving your new direction.
They are comfortable with you personally and are most likely to tell you if one of your new ideas is crap. You might find yourself calling your Advocates after hours to talk through ideas.
The mistake you can make with The Advocate is letting them get so comfortable that they take advantage of you. Remember, you are the boss for a reason.
You will have to make tough decisions in the best interest of the company. Those decisions might not be in the best short-term interest of your Advocates. Many new managers struggle to transition from peer to leader with this particular individual.
It is best to have this conversation early with your Advocate.
“Look, you know I am your biggest supporter and will continue to be. Understand that I have an entire team to lead and they can’t see that I’m treating you any differently. Our relationship might change in some ways and I’m sure to make decisions you won’t like. I will always give you a voice but once I make a decision, I am counting on your support.”
The second person to approach me was someone I butted heads with constantly. From the day I started in the office, he saw me as competition.
He was our top sales rep and had zero interest in seeing me get better. On the contrary, he lobbied our manager not to hire me in the first place. He didn’t think the office needed another sales rep.
Why would he? He was receiving 100% of the credit for every deal, whether he worked it or not.
No matter what new account I called on, he would make up a story about how it was already his account. It got to a point where I had to ask every new customer if they ever heard of him, knowing he would pull this game on me.
He shook my hand, congratulated me and offered a line.
“I want you to know you have my full support.”
If someone has to say that to you, they are probably full of shit. Someone who gives you their full support does it with action.
The truth is, he wanted anyone in that role but me. He didn’t think I was qualified to lead him. He saw me as a threat and he was already calculating how he might get me out of the role.
He was The Doubter.
The Doubter believes they were a better candidate for your job. They may have interviewed against you for the position. Even if they didn’t want your role, they believe someone else on the team would be much better suited to lead them.
That person is probably someone who will leave them alone or one they can control easily.
The Doubter is usually good at what they do which is why they believe they can question your authority. They might have been a favorite of your predecessor, largely because they delivered results.
What did I do as a new manager? I ignored my suspicion that all of these things might be the real truth. I didn’t confront any of it and just hoped he would adjust in time.
Worse, I was overly concerned with winning him over. I asked his opinion on everything which emboldened him to complain more and more. First, it was public complaining. Then, I started to hear from others on the team that he was calling around individually to spread discord.
It dragged the team’s morale in the mud for months before I confronted him about it. I was the manager but I gave all of my power away to someone who was passed over for good reasons.
If you know of someone who fits The Doubter profile, put the cards on the table immediately. There is zero reason to carry on ignoring the elephant in the corner of the room.
“Look, I recognize my promotion might be difficult for you. You probably would not have chosen me if it was your decision.”
Tell The Doubter what you value in them. Don’t lie. Try to find things they are good at. With my Doubter, I valued his technical ability to close large deals. I also valued his creativity and willingness to break into new industries while the rest of the team kept trying the same old things.
I should have told him those things up front. I also should have told him that I appreciate different viewpoints and want him to share his ideas with me. Above anything else, I should have confronted him on his behaviors that irritated me to no end.
“I want us to have open communication and I promise to listen to your ideas. But, you need to understand that we won’t agree on everything and I am going to make some decisions you don’t agree with. When I do, I need your support.
These are behaviors of yours that have driven me nuts as your peer. I expect to see you make changes in those areas. Does that make sense?”
I was too young and insecure to bring that direct approach and paid for it. I handled Doubters differently in every position I took after that.
If you have a new manager and fit The Doubter profile, get over yourself. This is your reality and the sooner you get over the denial curve, the better. Get behind your new manager, become an advocate or find somewhere else to work.
The next calls I took were from the team’s worst performers, The Exposed.
They were nervous, and for good reason.
The Exposed are struggling to get results and know it is not a secret to you. You were their peer for an extended period of time and probably know the reasons better than your predecessor. Their performance issues could be related to any number of issues.
- They work hard but are just not cut out for this specific role
- Their previous manager was a friend and let them get away with not performing
- They screw around on social media half the day
- They disappear for long stretches of time to go shopping at the mall
- They complain about the company all day and drag down the office with their attitude
Regardless of the reason, you will know it better than their manager did. Their guard was down around you as a peer. They know that you know.
In my case, both individuals were hard workers. I knew them well because I was running a pilot program where we helped our struggling sales reps with prospecting.
Even with a small team doing the cold calling for them, they still didn’t have the closing skills to make the most of it. They were stuck in the same rut and unwilling to get out of their comfort zone.
My mistake as a new manager was spending all of my time with this group. I vowed to fix their problems and ended up doing all of their work, while neglecting the best people on my team.
Regardless of the work I put in, they would always slip back. Ultimately, we had to replace one and found a different position for the other. It took me so long that they left a long trail of problems behind, which was largely my fault.
With this group, it is best to surface their performance immediately. Ask them why they think it has been a problem. If they are unwilling to share the real reasons, offer your perspective.
Next, ask them for their plan to change. It is important that they create the plan and not you. As their manager, you will offer your insight but they need to own this plan and believe in it.
If you have a new manager and a recent run of poor performance, don’t hope that your new manager doesn’t know. They know how everyone on the team has performed objectively and subjectively. Their new boss has briefed them on the team and they’ve been paying attention as your peer.
Be proactive and present a plan on how you plan to generate better results. Don’t make them bring the subject up. Your new manager will appreciate that you are already thinking about something they will have to address eventually.
The ones who didn’t call me were The Worriers. I called each of them after talking with the other three cohorts.
Worriers make up the largest contingent of any team a new manager inherits. Whether they are performing or not, a new manager stresses them. You represent change and change is frightening to The Worrier.
They envision all of the crazy things you are going to do as a manager. They fret that you won’t like them. They assume that since you weren’t close as peers, you probably won’t be close in this new relationship. They think that your difference in approach means they have to go.
90% of it is manufactured in their heads but, they will worry anyway.
The Worriers on this team were polite on the phone, shared some opportunities and challenges and gave me no reason to think they were worrying. It was only months later, once we got to know each other, that they told me about their initial fears.
One thought I was going to replace him because there were no steel mills in his territory and he knew steel mills were my biggest customers. Seemed a little far-fetched, given that he beat me in sales the prior year calling on paper mills.
Another was initially worried that I would take away his ability to work from a home office and make him start coming to an office every day. Not sure why he thought this, given that I worked from a home office when I was in his role.
What I learned about Worriers is to draw out their fears with more follow-up questions. People share information in layers, like peeling an onion. A new manager needs to ask questions that draw out concerns and follow up several times.
- What are you afraid that I might change?
- What do you want me to change?
- What are you concerned about with me in this role?
- If you were me, what would you change?
- What do you want to know about the type of manager I plan to be?
There is a little bit of Worrier in every person on your new team. Let them voice their concerns, no matter how implausible they might be.
If you are a Worrier, admit it to your new manager. Ask some of the questions above. If you have a specific worry, don’t drive yourself crazy. Ask what is on your mind and you’ll find that reality isn’t so bad.
Thinking about your team in these four buckets helps you think about their motivation and fears, which are the driving forces behind performance in any company.
Take the time to think about where each person fits. How you approach each individual can make all the difference in how fast your team comes together.