Coaching new managers

The March Big Question on the Learning Circuits Blog is "What would I do to support new managers?" My own consulting practice focused on this issue 25 years ago, as well as the software I helped develop for Citicorp Italia -- to take a "coach approach to management development". The word for coach in Italian is "allentore". I was delighted to read Ray Sim's response this afternoon. His framework would be very effective in my experience: self-paced learning, coaching and community. I'll simply add some insights into the coaching phase.

This transition brings up a number of issues for the new manager:

  • Replacing the previous friendliness among coworkers with the position of authority and detachment (without becoming cold, distant or hostile).
  • Accepting the greater need to manage up, to consider the pressures on superiors and to speak their language of strategy, rival threats, long term concerns and corporate performance measures (without losing the trust, respect and open lines of communication with subordinates).
  • Letting go of "hands on" problem solving in order to work through others, delegate responsibilities and to simply organize the teamwork (without becoming an aloof recluse or an indifferent, hands-off manager).
  • Evaluating subordinate performance with objective criteria, conversations about their direct report's own self-criticisms and consideration of their differences, developmental strategies and coworker compatibility issues (not evaluating with comparisons to the manger's own performance, professional growth and personal standards).
  • Factoring in H/R concerns about policy enforcement and litigation when handling conflicts, complaints and employee demands (not escalating the conflicts or placating the employees out of anger, guilt or fear).
  • Accepting that this is a "rite of passage" that goes into limbo: where familiar situations seem strange, conversations seem difficult and one's own identity is transforming without direct control (not according to plan, 7 easy steps or fully anticipated from the start).
Understanding these (and many other) challenges raises personal issues with past history, work experiences and destructive feedback from other managers. Particular co-workers may pose problems that appear to have no solution. Attempts to appease the coach can compromise the relationship that is intended to challenge numerous preconceptions, assumptions and past practices.

The best way to work through these issues is to talk them out with the coach or kick them around with a community of practice comprised of other "managers in training".

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