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How to Help Your New Managers Succeed

By Dorie Clark

The stakes are high for any new hire – after all, studies estimate it can cost between 50-60% of an employee’s annual salary to replace them if they fail, with indirect costs spiraling even higher.

But the transition is especially fraught for first-time managers. In fact, the Corporate Executive Board reports that 60% of new managers underperformed or failed within their first two years, costing their employers significant time, money, and lost productivity.

Most conversations about solving this challenge focus on closing skills gaps, whether ‘hard skills’ like software or product training, or ‘soft skills’ like delegation or communication. Indeed, these are all valuable.

But in the course of my consulting work for Fortune 500 companies and through developing the “Launch into Leadership” program for new managers with ExecOnline, I’ve come to realize there’s a critical component that doesn’t get talked about enough: the mental shifts involved in becoming a new manager.

Here are three key ways senior leaders can help new managers adjust successfully to their new role.

Help them understand the difference between a manager and an individual contributor. Up to this point – whether in school or in their first few years in the corporate world – your new hire has been evaluated based on one thing: their individual performance. But now everything’s changed. Their success is now measured not by what they accomplish with their own two hands, but instead what their team can get done collectively.

Many new managers fail because, even though they understand they’re responsible for their employees, they don’t fully “get” this distinction: they now succeed entirely through others. That means they need to realize their real work isn’t processing memos or holding meetings or answering emails; it’s providing guidance, mentoring, structure, and feedback to their employees. Let your new managers know their most important job is creating the conditions for their employees to do great work.

Help them fight back against imposter syndrome. Most senior leaders are familiar with the concept of imposter syndrome – i.e., the fear that you don’t really belong in the role you’ve been placed in, and that you’ll be found out. Leaders have likely read the business literature explaining that this is an extremely common feeling. But your new managers, who aren’t as far along in their career, may not have.

Couple that with the daunting fact that it’s their first assignment supervising other people, and they want to get it right. Failing here means – they assume – their career progression will be halted and they won’t get any other chances.

If you believe that – and believe that you’re the only person with the deep dark secret of feeling unqualified – it’s a dangerous brew. Admitting you don’t know the answer to something can feel like a fatal confirmation of your inadequacies. As a result, these new managers (who probably need a great deal of guidance) hesitate to reach out, and waste time and resources trying to figure things out on their own, reinventing the wheel in the process.

As a leader, you should let your new managers know that it’s OK not to know the answers, and that everyone – including you – has at times doubted their capabilities. That doesn’t mean, of course, that they’re unqualified: only that they’re human. Understanding this at a deep level frees up your new managers to concentrate on their job, not guarding their reputation.

Help them find their mission as a leader. Some days as a leader are magnificent: you helped an employee master a new skill, or your team exceeded its goals, or an employee told you how much your help meant to them. But not every day is like that. Some are quite thankless, like when you have to make an unpopular decision, or a new initiative didn’t pan out. What keeps you going on days like that is having a mission as a leader – and you can help your first-time managers learn how to develop that for themselves.

Every company has a mission, of course, but what we’re talking about is the personal constellation of values that makes work uniquely meaningful for each individual. Maybe that mission is about helping their team members do their best work, or having deep personal curiosity about their industry, or wanting to make a difference at scale.

You can ask your new managers to ponder what excites them most about: 1) the industry; 2) the company; and 3) their team and the people they work with. Those questions will help them tap into what motivates them, even on days when things are difficult.

Becoming a first-time manager isn’t easy. But as a leader, you can help your new hires adjust more seamlessly by showing them that their transition isn’t just about learning new skills. Instead, it’s about cultivating a new mindset and a new way of looking at success.

Dorie Clark is an adjunct professor at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business and the author of Entrepreneurial YouReinventing You and Stand Out, which was named the #1 Leadership Book of 2015 by Inc. magazine. A former presidential campaign spokeswoman, the New York Times described her as an “expert at self-reinvention and helping others make changes in their lives.” A frequent contributor to the Harvard Business Review, she consults and speaks for clients including Google, Microsoft, and the World Bank. You can download her free Entrepreneurial You self-assessment workbook.

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