Ridiculing the role of managers is so commonplace that it’s trite. When have you ever read Dilbert and seen a positive image of the “pointy-haired boss?” I can’t remember a single one. How often do you see negative images of him? I’d guess the average to be about four days/week. When someone you know is promoted to a first time manager, remember to congratulate her on her elevation to know-nothing, pointy-hairedness-uh, make that on her promotion. New managers generally face the same challenges as seasoned managers, but they also have to contend with a few special issues. In this article, we’ll examine some of these challenges from the perspective of the new manager.

The new manager may encounter any number of unfamiliar job elements. Friends and colleagues have suddenly become subordinates. There is a need to hire people, or give feedback—both positive and negative. Suddenly the new manager must plan how other people will use their time; in fact, his or her own time will have different demands placed on it—although the new manager may not really understand that yet. Generally the most difficult challenge for the new manager is to learn to let go of some of the technical tasks (whether it’s baking a pie or writing a computer program) and delegate to other people—people who might be less capable or who might simply take a different approach.

Unfortunately, new managers rarely get adequate support to help them grow into their new roles. When they do get training, it is likely just a few days on project management or time management. There is an expectation that everything will be assimilated and the new manager will be fully prepared. Training can be effective but much more so when accompanied by ongoing support—support that coaching can provide. I believe that good coaching is more important than training and is effective in the absence of training.

Everyone who works has some level of management responsibilities—time management at the very least. But upon reaching the rung on the corporate ladder where one carries the title of “manager”, there are a number of changes one must make in order to be effective in the new role. This article is about those changes and how to help the new manager grow into the role.

1. The role has changed—and there is value to the new responsibilities

New managers often have some ambivalence about their new role. Who hasn’t heard the refrain that all managers know how to do is go to meetings? While there are certainly cases where that’s true, they are the exceptions. Even if the sentiment were always true, some meetings are worthwhile. Just imagine how hard it would be to build a product if no one knew the details of what it was supposed to look like or how it would operate. If nobody decides what the product or service will be, it will be hard to build; if the marketing and sales team doesn’t know when the product will be ready, it will be hard to coordinate a splashy release and sell the product.

Without someone coordinating the efforts of the staff, it would be difficult to keep the development, or sales, or support, or any effort progressing smoothly. As project complexity increases, coordinating the efforts of various groups becomes more important. Helping the new manager not only understand these facts but also appreciate their validity will help him to value his new role. Helping the new manager to see that he is also achieving an added measure of control over his own time and professional life can also help him to see his new role as a positive change.

2. Time management

Remember when you were a new parent? (If you’ve never been a parent of small children, then think about a time when someone you know was.) Remember when the new parent stumbled into work glassy eyed and reported that things that simple things that used to take minutes, like putting on a coat and leaving the house, now took the better part of an hour? Welcome to time management for managers.

In a corporate setting, the new manager is typically a team leader and not a full time manager. As a result, what often happens is that the new manager knows how long technical tasks take but does not understand how much time or effort managerial tasks take. So, she either grossly underestimates the amount of time for managerial tasks, or she may not even realize all of the new tasks that will come with the job. This will lead to an unrealistically optimistic estimate of the amount of time available for technical work. What this misestimation often means in practice is that she will plan approximately 95% of her time doing the same technical she did before her promotion and will end up working another 50% of her time performing various managerial tasks. After a while, those 60+ hour weeks get pretty old and the manager gets tired and disillusioned.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Through coaching, you can help the new manager understand her new role and adjust her expectations appropriately.

3. Delegation

When my wife asks me to do something for her, she sometimes gets frustrated if I don’t do it the way she would have—and she has been a manager for years.

Delegation is one of the most difficult challenges for new managers. Why? Because managers, like most of us, are afraid of the unknown; and this is all new territory for the new manager. Thoughts like “I’m responsible for it, so what will happen to me if�” resonate for the new manager. For example, “I’m responsible for the product, so what will happen to me if they don’t build it well?” or “�don’t do it the way I would have done it?” The end result is a lot of stress about “how can I possibly trust anyone else?” To help the new manager learn to delegate and also to be able to sleep at night, you can coach him to remember that his job has changed. He now has responsibility to get the project done, but he also has another major task: developing his staff. It can help to remind him that the people he will rely on are the same ones who were doing the job before he became the manager.

The flipside of knowing how to delegate is knowing what to delegate—and what not to. Managers should strive to keep themselves off the critical path. This is a delicate subject since one of the reasons for his promotion was probably his accomplishments in a staff role. On the other hand, as a manager, he’ll face situations that require immediate attention at the same time as a critical deliverable is due. As a coach, you can help the new manager devise a number of strategies—perhaps having an assistant to back him up in case he needs to do other things, or perhaps taking important tasks that won’t block delivery if they slip a bit.

4. Micro-managing & abdicating

After delegating, the new manager faces the challenge of being appropriately involved—neither micro-managing nor abdicating responsibility. Micro managers aren’t really delegating. They spend so much time and energy making sure that someone else does just what they would in the same way they would that they’re hardly amplifying their own time or skills at all. On the other hand, managers who never check in on what their employees are doing run the risk of having their people build a lot of square pegs for projects where the holes are round.

A coach can help a new manager to be involved to the appropriate level by asking questions like “what’s the complexity of the task being delegated?” and “what’s the experience and talent level of the person doing the work?” If the person doing the work is experienced and talented, close supervision is unnecessary, but it is important to check periodically to ensure that the work fits the requirements. Alternatively, if the person doing the work is inexperienced, or if there has been a history of performance problems, the coach can help the new manager to be more directly involved with the work while helping the employee to develop.

One role the coach can play in both of these situations is to help the manager establish standards and boundaries for the group’s work product. For example, standards might include levels of product quality while boundaries could include expectations about the amount of supervision required or the expectation of cooperation among team members.

5. Friends who are now subordinates

When I first started working for myself, I used to joke that I would have to be careful what I told myself because I was pretty sure that I couldn’t trust my boss.

The new manager may well find that relations with some of her former friends and colleagues change. It’s easy to say that personal and professional life are separate and to act appropriately for each situation. Just imagine that you, as manager, have decided not to give a friend a piece of a project that she wanted, or that you have to tell a friend that he didn’t do an acceptable job on a project. It is not, however, realistic. Every situation is different, but this is an area in which a coach can be invaluable to someone in a position of authority for the first time. Being a sounding board, and offering other perspectives and insights can help the manager do what’s right professionally and put the least strain on the personal relationship with the manager’s friend.

Bonus: Business owners as new managers

The business owner as new manager faces a few unique variations on the new corporate manager theme. The business wouldn’t be there without him. It wouldn’t have flourished to the point of needing employees without him. The business owner understands that the business is really his. For the new manager, this additional dynamic can substantially complicate the situation for a new employee—or interloper.

If the employee is in the technical area where the business owner is the expert, then the new manager may tend toward micro-management. If the employee is in an area where the business owner is not an expert, the new manager may tend to abdicate responsibility completely.

As a coach in this environment, you have both the normal coaching challenges to help the business owner develop as a manager and the additional challenge of helping him welcome new employees. These are high value areas to coach in, since the business owner’s attitude about them and success in developing will significantly impact the likelihood of success for the business. Helping the business owner to understand that the best employees will be those who have a measure of authority will help to develop and retain employees and make operating the business easier and less stressful. Helping the business owner to understand that, even in an area of the business where he has little expertise, he will be best served if he understands enough to be intelligently involved with the important decisions will both help him develop as an entrepreneur and improve the chances for his business’ success.

Coaching: opportunities for impact

There are many opportunities for a coach to make a substantial, positive impact on the new manager and, by extension, on the corporation. But coaching is still new to most corporations so you are most likely to find receptivity to the idea in environments where there is already a culture of openness to new ideas. In that kind of organization, the company may invest in coaching for the new manager—which certainly puts a positive stamp on the process. With the positive reinforcement, the new manager will come to understand that coaching can help successful people become even more successful. That can lead to a very beneficial relationship for all concerned.