Why First-Time Managers Need More Development Support - Ideas for Leaders
Idea #487

Why First-Time Managers Need More Development Support

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First-time managers, according to a recent survey, face a variety of leadership challenges, the most difficult being leading teams effectively, learning to be a better leader, and (mentioned by nearly 60% of respondents) being able to assert your authority over former peers while maintaining positive relationships. Organizations, focused on executive development, need to put more money into leadership development for first-time managers, especially in these three areas.


A Center for Creative Leadership (CCL) survey of first-time managers attending its Maximizing Your Leadership Potential (MLP) program offers some insight into the challenges first-time managers face. The 12 top leadership challenges, according to survey respondents, ranged from doing more with less (mentioned by just 5.4% of respondents), working with a range of employees (14.2%), conflict management (15.3%) delegation (17.6%) and communication (17.6%) to coaching and developing others (21.4%), performance management issues (24.1%) and motivating others (27.1%).

About one-third of respondents mentioned managing internal politics and stakeholders. However, the top three leadership challenges for first-time managers, mentioned by at least 40% of respondents, were

  • leading team achievement (43.4%)
  • managerial and personal effectiveness (46.1%), and
  • people management/displaying authority (59.3%).

Leading team achievement refers to building and effectively guiding a team to success, especially when goals are unclear. Managerial and personal effectiveness refers to developing personally as a leader as well as increasing your productivity as an employee. This includes learning to better manage time, stress, and relationships, and acquiring leadership skills as well as industry-specific skills.

By far the greatest hurdle for first-time managers, however, is people management and displaying authority. No longer just focused on their individual contribution, first-time managers must now learn to manage others, including knowing how to influence and coordinate employees that are not in their direct line of authority. The greatest hurdle related to this challenge, however, is the unique challenge of asserting your authority over former co-workers while maintaining positive relationships. 


First-time managers face responsibilities and challenges never before encountered. They should not be forced to develop on their own or with minimal guidance the skills and knowledge required to overcome these challenges and meet their responsibilities. Yet many companies, studies show, spend twice as much on training for each of their mid-level managers than they do on training their lower-level managers — and up to five times as much on their executive-level managers.

No wonder first-time managers often feel unsupported by their organizations.

Companies must begin by communicating to first-time managers that they are not alone. Corporate leaders must be ready to listen and respond when managers share their concerns. Regular feedback on how first-time managers are performing is also important. One mechanism to offer development support to first-time managers is through ‘mentoring circles’, which gathers one to three mentors with four to eight mentees to share stories of success and failure and receive guidance.

Perhaps most importantly, organizations must develop leadership development initiatives that focus on the challenges specific to first-time managers, especially the top three challenges identified by the managers in the study:

For leading teams, managers can be taught the Direction, Alignment, Commitment (DAC) framework: provide direction (everyone is clear on the vision and goals); create alignment (everyone knows their responsibilities and how these align with what others are doing); and commitment (every single person is dedicated and passionate). Other tips to give first-time managers for leading teams include saying ‘together’ a lot to emphasize that the team effort, and responding quickly to conflicts before they spread.

For improving managerial effectiveness, including learning how to better manage their time and their stress, first-time managers must be taught to adopt some key habits: set specific and measurable goals; maintain an overall list of responsibilities and projects; plan regular, carefully structured check-in meetings with direct reports, ensuring that expectations from the meetings are clear to everyone; and use only one calendar and one consolidated to-do list.

As for the particularly thorny issue of dealing with former co-workers as their new boss, first-time managers must be taught to: be clear with co-workers-turned-subordinates that the working relationship has changed and that there are new boundaries; be fair and not let personal biases from former friendships lead to preferential treatment; be aware that everyone is watching and will notice when some people are given more time and support than others; be proactive and meet with all direct reports to understand their motivations and concerns.



Understanding the Leadership Challenges of First-Time Managers: Strengthening Your Leadership Pipeline. William A. (Bill) Gentry, Paige Logan & Scott Tonidandel. Center for Creative Leadership (CCL®) White Paper (2014). 

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Idea conceived

December 1, 2014

Idea posted

Feb 2015
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