Leadership Skills New Managers Need to Succeed

  • 3 Min Read

The first couple of years can make or break new managers. They can succeed with the right leadership training.

New managers need to be able to lead, but if left unchecked, they run the risk of developing bad habits they’ll end up carrying throughout their career. According to a CEB (now Gartner) Learning and Development Roundtable study, 60% of new frontline managers underperform during their first two years, driving performance gaps and employee turnover.

The good news is those pitfalls can be avoided provided first-time managers develop good leadership skills, and that requires the right training and support from their organization. With over two million people being promoted into management each year, training and support are critical. Many new managers are left to their own devices as research from Zenger Folkman revealed that the average leader doesn’t receive training until they are 10 years into their career.

According to Scott Blanchard, Principal and Executive Vice President, The Ken Blanchard Companies, “management is done minute-to-minute, in a series of conversations that people have over time.” There are four core conversations that new managers must master to lead and succeed: goal-setting, praising, redirecting, and wrapping up.

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Goal-setting – “What am I supposed to be doing?”

Goal-setting should happen at the beginning of a project and revisited as needed. It’s meant to set a direction and needs to be clear and compelling. Goal-setting is ultimately about engaging employees in a dialogue that will help them see the importance and purpose of the project—the key to unlocking motivation—so they can figure out how they’ll approach it.

Praising – “Did I do it right?”

This is the kind of conversation to have with employees when things are going well. Praising should be timely and incremental, specific about behaviors that indicate what employees are doing right, and encourage reflection.

Redirecting – “Am I doing it wrong?”

Redirecting is about getting employees back on track when things aren’t going well. It should be immediate and incremental, goal-focused rather than person-focused, without blame or judgement, and honest and kind.

Wrapping up – “Did it matter and what did we learn?”

Wrapping up is about determining what employees can do better the next time, and should happen at the end of projects. Results and accomplishments should be celebrated, and learning should be acknowledged without making employees feel wrong.

To master those four conversations there are four fundamental leadership skills new managers need to have:

Listen to learn

It’s critical that new managers learn to be good listeners so they can get a sense of what’s happening before they intervene or make a decision. When they listen deeply to people it creates a foundation for being able to influence them.

  • Listen with the intent of being influenced and learning something new.
  • Be present and focused—listen for the things that aren’t being said.
  • Be open-minded.

Inquire for insight

Managers need to be able to ask questions that draw out insights from employees.

  • Ask open-ended questions.
  • Focus on moving forward.
  • Ask “what questions” avoid “why questions.”

Tell your truth

When managers encourage employees to talk by asking the right questions, they can start telling their truth through feedback. They shouldn’t lead with truth-telling. First, managers should:

  • Share relevant information.
  • Be brave, honest, and respectful.
  • Be open to other perspectives.
  • Wait patiently until the right time to surface a truth and give the other person time to share their truth.

Express confidence

Expressing confidence is about showing employees that they are respected and believe that they’re ready to take the next step.

  • Build self-assurance and enthusiasm.
  • Highlight relevant qualities or skills.
  • Move the conversation forward.

By proactively providing training to develop these communication skills and encouraging mastery of the four core conversations, organizations will be able to help equip their new managers with the good leadership skills they’ll need to succeed, while also eliminating performance gaps and decreasing employee turnover.

Learn more about helping new managers succeed with good leadership habits