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Teach Your Leaders Well

“Teach Your Leaders Well”

It takes more than a promotion to make a good manager.

As your business booms, you must add workers to boost production. These newcomers need managers, so you bump up your top technicians into supervisory roles. There’s only one catch: Your new managers may lack the ability to manage.

Just because someone excels at a hands-on job doesn’t mean that person will thrive at management. Effective supervising requires entirely different skills than working an assembly line or analyzing data.

When you promote specialists to supervisors, you can either train them to succeed or let them sink or swim on their own. Although some individuals might embrace leadership without guidance, most need coaching.

Prime your leaders

Most new supervisors try to hide their initial panic. They may fight off the impostor syndrome where they think "I’m in over my head" or "I’m not qualified for this." To cope with their newfound authority, they look desperately for role models.

That’s where you come in. You create leaders by promoting them with accolades and fanfare, by congratulating them for their strong work ethic and admirable character. Explain that you like to reward excellence and challenge promising employees.

If a technical whiz resists your management offer, listen with an open mind. That person may not want to move ahead. Don’t force a promotion on someone who’s adamantly against it. Stepping into a supervisor’s shoes is hard enough for individuals who want to climb the ladder; it’s an exercise in futility for folks who prefer to stay put.

Yet some employees may merely need prodding. Motivate them by saying:

  • You have skills and talents that aren’t getting developed in your current job. I want to make you a stronger, even more valuable part of our success.
  • For me, building this business has meant moving out of my comfort zone to take on new responsibilities. It’s an exhilarating feeling that I want you to experience.
  • One of the benefits of working for a fast-growing company is that you get to move up the ladder quickly if you’re a star. And you’re a star.

Acknowledge the downsides of management — from the exhaustion that comes from getting enmeshed in an employee’s personal crisis to the frustration caused by noncompliant workers. Yet don’t cast the job in such a negative light that you cause rookie managers to dread it from day one. Sarcastic comments such as "You’re in for a real treat" or "You have gray hair already, so this job won’t affect you" might seem funny to you, but won’t to employees.

Lessons in motivation

Among the toughest challenges new managers face: rousing their employees to push harder and produce better results. Leading entry-level folks can be especially difficult in fast-growing companies, where a pressurized environment can lead to high turnover and burnout.

Here are a few strategies you can share with new managers to help them motivate employees:

Balance delegation. It’s not enough to tell new supervisors to delegate. They might dump the least desirable tasks onto their crew, sparking resentment and low morale. A better approach: Encourage supervisors to rotate tough assignments with easy ones when delegating. Make sure they don’t unintentionally punish top performers by giving them a steady stream of grueling jobs.

Request a "hot-button list." Instruct your supervisor to determine what motivates each worker, and draft a list of each employee’s "hot buttons." Then you can work together on creating incentives and recognition programs that will appeal to the work force.

Make praise contagious. Model the kind of leadership you want new managers to exhibit: Dish out praise in generous portions. Say what you admire about certain employees. Salute your customers for their loyalty. Express respect for your new manager’s effort or attitude.

Realize that if new supervisors have worked alongside their staffs for a long time, they may have developed a jaded view of management. Now they’ll need to adopt a different, more mature outlook. By setting an example of a positive leader who sees the good in people, you demonstrate how you want them to manage.

Radiating authority

New supervisors often struggle with self-doubt. They may lack confidence in their leadership and feel strange managing their friends and former peers. Left on their own, they may adopt a wishy-washy, overly obliging nature.

To help boost their credibility as leaders:

Enhance their voice. Coach new supervisors to speak up. If they’re bashful or unsure of themselves, they may talk too low or too fast. Videotape them leading a staff meeting and give feedback on their voice tempo, volume and inflection. Enroll them in a Toastmasters club. Pair them with a mentor who’ll help them speak with authority.

Stress listening over talking. New managers may overcompensate for their nervousness by barking orders and acting like tyrants. Get them to focus on listening by suggesting the 80/20 rule: Listen 80% of the time and limit speaking to the remaining 20%.

Encourage questions, not answers. New supervisors often assume they must have all the answers to employees’ questions. But asking smart questions counts more than spouting answers. Educate your managers to show an interest in their employees. Have them withhold their opinions; instead, guide them to answer staffers’ questions with questions such as, "What do you think?" or "What have you tried so far?"

Using budgets to manage

When Katie Lukas promoted a Web designer to creative director, she knew firsthand the challenges her employee would face. Lukas, co-founder and CEO of StickyData Inc., a 2-year-old Web-development firm in New York, worked as a creative director before launching her business.

Lukas’ new creative director suddenly had to disseminate information to four employees, exert discipline and learn to say "no" diplomatically.

One thing Lukas did to help her new manager was to share the company’s financials. "When I was in her position, I learned how budgets were built and how easy it was to exceed those budgets," Lukas explains. "You want to say ‘yes’ to your employees and clients, but if you keep saying ‘yes,’ you end up exceeding your budgets. It’s all so obvious when you see the numbers."

Lukas also takes her new creative director to lunch often to lend support. "Don’t abandon [new managers] to their fate," she says. "Be around a lot so they’re comfortable talking with you about what they’re going through."

Writer: Morey Stettner, a management writer and trainer in Portsmouth, N.H., is author of "Skills for New Managers" (McGraw-Hill, 2000) and "The Art of Winning Conversation" (Prentice-Hall, 1995). E-mail: stettner@attbi.com