Let’s face it. Change can be challenging. Especially change you didn’t see coming. And even if you did receive some warning, some change can come across like a splash of cold water.

Take, for instance, people who suddenly find themselves in a new manager’s role they didn’t seek. They were just minding their own business when—bang—now they’re expected to lead a group of people who only yesterday were their peers. 

With the change in responsibility come changes in relationships. And, especially in the current economic turmoil, the change typically comes with no real training.

Peter Economy understands. He’s the author of Wait, I’m the Boss?!? The Essential Guide for New Managers to Succeed from Day One.

Peter works with C-level executives, executive coaches, and business consultants worldwide. He also writes “The Leadership Guy” column for Inc. magazine. 

Rodger Dean Duncan: What’s the most common challenge facing someone who’s received a new leadership role, and what’s your advice for handling that challenge effectively?

Peter Economy: The most common challenge for the new manager is making the move from being someone who is skilled in some business area—say, sales—to becoming a skilled manager, often without any training at all. So, while you might be a great salesperson, maybe even the best in the company, you may quickly learn that you’re not such a great sales manager—you just don’t have the skills to execute. You may not even want to be a sales manager.

My advice is to embrace your new role—take it on as a learning challenge that you can win as you gain the skills you need to be a great manager.

Duncan: Research shows that most managers receive their first leadership training about ten years after they begin supervising others. What problems does this gap cause?

Economy: The biggest problem that comes from this training vacuum is that, in the absence of leadership or management training, these men and women often form bad management habits instead of good ones. And as we all know, any habit—good or bad—is very hard to break.

Peter Economy

Duncan: In the absence of a formal training program, where can new managers turn for help in adapting to—and excelling in—their new roles?

Economy: One of the best things new managers can do is find a mentor in their organization—a well-established, successful manager—who is willing to help provide career advice and guidance along the way. This might be their own boss, or someone else in the organization. According to a survey of American small business owners conducted by financial services company, Kabbage, Inc., 92% of small business owners say mentors have a direct impact on the growth and survival of their business. Mentors make a real difference in the lives of new managers, and in the outcomes they create for their businesses and customers.

Duncan: What do you see as the most important things a good manager must do in today’s workplace?

Economy: There are three things in particular that the very best managers do. First, they have empathy for their people. They praise good performance in public and address problems in private, with a genuine concern for employees. The best managers coach and guide employees through challenges, looking for solutions that will foster the long-term success of the organization.

Second, they are focused. The best leaders plan ahead, they are supremely organized, and they encourage their people to provide their own ideas for improvement. They think through multiple scenarios and the possible impacts of their decisions, while considering viable alternatives, making plans and strategies, and communicating them to their people often and through a variety of different channels.

Third, they inspire their employees. They challenge their employees by setting high but attainable standards and expectations, and then they provide employees with the support, tools, training, and latitude to pursue those goals and to be the best they can be every day of the week.

Duncan: What, if any, changes in management requirements do you expect after the pandemic shutdowns are lifted?

Economy: I believe many organizations will continue to allow—or perhaps even require—that remote employees remain in that role. This will require managers to get increasingly comfortable and skilled with leading and managing a distributed workforce—some people in the office and some working in their homes. Communication is key here—it’s better for managers to over-communicate with a remote workforce than to under-communicate with it.

Duncan: How can managers ensure that the performance reviews they provide to their direct reports actually inspire excellent performance?

Economy: The key to inspiring excellent performance is to work with your people to collaboratively set goals that connect with them emotionally and inspire them to give the very best that they’ve got.

Ask yourself: How will my goal affect the emotions of the people I manage? Will it inspire them to do more, give more, be more? How will it affect the people who manage me? My teammates? How will this goal affect my personal goals and career plans?

To inspire excellent performance, goals need to align with employees’ purpose and connect with them on a deep level.

Duncan: What can a new manager do to enhance trust and collaboration among team members?

Economy: Trust is one of the most important things that any manager—new or veteran—needs to build and nurture within their teams. Unfortunately, in a study cited a decade ago by Stephen M.R. Covey, only 49% of employees trust senior management and only 28% believe CEOs are a credible source of information. I don’t know that the situation is any better today. Managers build trust by consistently walking the talk, making sure their actions speak louder than their words, and delivering on their promises.

Duncan: Most people agree that meetings can be a significant time-waster. How can a manager ensure that meetings are both time- and purpose-effective?

Economy: The problem with many meetings is that they are unnecessary. So, the first thing any manager should do is be sure that there’s really a need for the meeting at all. If not, then cancel it.

If there is a need, then there are a variety of techniques to ensure that you get the most out of it. Invite only the people who really need to be in the meeting and no more than that. Email an agenda for the meeting 24 hours in advance and start and end the meeting on time. Come prepared for the meeting and insist that other attendees are also prepared for it. Ban smartphones and stay on topic.

Duncan: You quote Simon Sinek as saying “A boss has the title, a leader has the people.” What specific behaviors and mindsets distinguish a leader from a boss?

Economy: In my experience, the very best leaders stand out from the crowd. They have the ability to inspire their people with a compelling vision of the future, they sincerely listen to employees—and respond sincerely and positively to their suggestions and input, adopting them whenever possible—they create a culture of experimentation and constant improvement where mistakes aren’t hidden and everyone learns from them, and they build the kind of company that people want to work for and do business with.

As Sinek says, leaders really do have the people—the hearts of their people.

Duncan: What’s the key to delegating in a manner that builds two-way confidence and produces the best performance?

Economy: The classic definition of management is “getting things done through others.” When you delegate tasks to others in your organization—your employees—you multiply your own effectiveness, both as a manager and as a leader. Not only that, but your people have the opportunity to learn and master the skills they need to progress in their own careers.

The secret to good delegation that builds two-way confidence and produces the best performance is delegate a small amount of authority and responsibility to start, then increase these as your people become more confident in their own abilities. Keep close tabs on performance and coach and support your employees as they improve.

Duncan: How can a manager be most effective in helping people feel significantly “engaged” in the organization’s mission and in their personal contribution to it?

Economy: I believe the best way for managers to help employees feel engaged in the organization’s mission is to regularly show them how their personal contributions move the needle. For example, if your company’s mission is to provide customers with the highest-quality products available anywhere, explain to your employees—in one-on-one and group meetings—how what they do in their job plays a role in providing customers with the highest-quality products.

Everyone in an organization plays a role in the organization’s success, even if it’s an indirect one. For example, the receptionist or accounting clerk. But managers can help their people feel more engaged in the organization’s mission by enabling them to see and better understand how what they do plays a role in it.

Duncan: What’s the one thing managers should place most focus on today?

Economy: In these uncertain times, it’s more important than ever that managers have integrity. I personally believe that, in business, you’re only as good as your reputation. Having a good reputation is key to building trust with your people, and ultimately, creating the foundation for a successful, satisfying, and long-lasting career.

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Rodger Dean Duncan