Stop bad leadership habits before they get started

New managers aren’t getting the training they need when they first step up to leadership roles. For example, more than 40 percent of the people who attended the early pilots of The Ken Blanchard Companies’ First-time Manager classes had already been in management for over two years by the time they attended class—and research by management consultancy Zenger Folkman found that the average manager doesn’t receive training until they have been on the job ten years!
That’s simply too late. Without training, undesirable managerial habits develop that prevent new managers from being as effective as they need to be. It could also be part of the reason why 60 percent of new managers underperform—or fail—in their first two years.

Linda Miller, a master certified coach and coauthor of Blanchard’s new First-time Manager program, says, “If left on our own, we continue to lean on our habitual behaviors. Even when we change roles or move into a new job or position, we still are inclined to fall back into familiar patterns.”
That can be a problem in the case of new managers, explains Miller. “They often bring their individual contributor habits or practices into the new role. In this case, they may repeat a youngpattern over and over again—even when it is not helpful or appropriate—simply because it is comfortable and familiar.
“I worked with a client recently who has been a leader for many years. Now, she is struggling with grooming a new generation of leaders to take her place. My hunch is that when she was a new manager, she made all the decisions. Now, that habit has caught up with her: her organization is ready for her to step back and develop others, but she still feels she needs to make all the decisions instead of delegating them to people who could learn from the experience.”
Another common example of new managers hanging on to old habits is when they feel they still need to do work they should be delegating to direct reports.
As Miller explains, “When coaching first-time managers, I often ask how much of their work could be delegated. A new manager has to have a plan for accomplishing results through others. Many find it easier to keep doing a familiar task themselves than to have a conversation with a direct report who could take on the responsibility. Although it may be easier for them to just do the task, as a new manager that work is no longer part of their role.”

An added challenge Miller often works on with new managers is peer relationships. “Things change when a person becomes a manager—and relationships need to change as well. People who were once peers may now be direct reports. As a peer, the relationship might have involved social activities such as going out for drinks after work. But for a new manager, new behaviors may need to be created that preserve those personal relationships at a slightly different level.”
Counterproductive beliefs and expectations from upper management can get in the way of a new manager’s progress in developing new skills. When a high performing individual contributor becomes a manager, leadership often believes that because the person had been a high performer in their previous role, they will be an immediate success in their new role as manager. Awareness of these lofty expectations may prevent the new manager from requesting support or input from their supervisor or other colleagues. Because they don’t want to be seen as inferior or as a poor choice for management, they may decide it’s best to improvise their own strategies and solutions—trial and error—instead of asking for the training or help they need. This is the way many undesirable patterns begin.

Research shows that if organizations don’t take a proactive approach in training new managers, 60 percent of these managers will underperform in their first two years and bad habits will set in. This can be avoided by earlier training, coaching, mentoring, or other support within the organization.

Instead of letting new managers take a trial-and-error approach that potentially leads to bad habits, Miller believes organizations need to create a new manager learning path. This begins with normalizing the idea that transitioning from an individual contributor role into management is a big change—and that it is normal for first-time managers to feel awkward or even paralyzed by all the new skills they need to learn.
Next, identify some of the gaps or differences between being an individual contributor and being a new manager. For example, early discussions could focus on situations where old habits may not serve the new manager or the organization well.
From there, Miller says it is on to skill building and a focus on getting things done through others. If new managers are not going to do the work themselves, how will goals be achieved? Miller cautions that this question can get a little blurred because new managers often have two jobs: accomplishing their own goals as well as managing a team of direct reports.

For new managers who recognize bad habits may be holding them back, Miller’s first recommendation is to ask for feedback from their own manager—and, if available, take advantage of a 360-degree process.
“I would encourage leaders of new managers to give input if they see patterns of behavior that may be unproductive,” says Miller. “For example, if the new manager always makes the decisions rather than letting others take the lead, or if they always take on work rather than delegating it to their direct reports, their leader needs to discuss those observations.
“When we ask new managers about the most significant event that helped in their development, many will point to when an immediate manager or colleague said something direct and concise that changed the way they did things. I would encourage new managers to listen to the feedback they are getting and look for patterns. Also, they should consider seeking out a mentoring or coaching relationship—a safe place where they can be really honest in sharing their experiences.”

Once new managers have examined their behaviors and found patterns that aren’t working in their leadership roles, the hard work begins—changing those ingrained behaviors. This requires interrupting the automatic responses, says Miller.
“As a coach, many times I will suggest to people that they take some time before they respond to a situation. For example, before saying yes to a request, the new manager might wait two hours to think it through. Or we might discuss coming up with a question they can ask themselves that will interrupt the pattern. For example, a self-directed question might be How else could I approach this work besides doing it myself? In addition, they might challenge the belief that is creating the response in the first place—to really think about what keeps them responding in this way.
“So, awareness is number one—become aware of the pattern and what needs to change. Then, examine and challenge the belief that creates the response. The next step is to come up with actions, often very simple ones, which can address the changes that are needed. ”

Miller’s advice to organizations looking to improve leadership in their organizations is short and sweet. “Don’t wait. Start now. Developing your high potential people early will pay dividends—now and in the future.
”It’s much easier to train and develop good leadership habits in the first place than to change undesirable patterns that have been deeply embedded. Identifying high potential people and beginning leadership training before they accept their first leadership role does the organization, as well as the aspiring leaders, a great service. It’s not what most organizations do, but it is a unique and promising approach—and a far superior option to trial and error.”

Source:, April 2016
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