New leaders are attracted towards known territories …

Each person has an individual personality and working style. Personal differences become especially apparent in key moments of one’s career. The first promotion into a managerial role is a special role transition which requires the new leaders to embark on a learning journey quite different from their past experiences.

Everyone is about to learn some lessons by making initial mistakes or starting by taking a one-sided approach.

Here are some examples of typical attitudes of “fresh” managers – but there are definitely more ways than that.

Type “Everybody’s Darling”

Soon after promotion into the first leadership role, some recently appointed team leads or managers are inclined to win their team members’ hearts by enlarging their degrees of freedom, granting additional tasks or responsibilities – sometimes spontaneously in the first one-on-one meeting -, or conceding favors to accomodate personal circumstances which their employees describe as particularly urgent or needful.

These types of managers are driven by the motivation to be a better leader than the ones they themselves have suffered from in the past, or they believe in open and accomodating leadership styles. Their liberal approach gives team members sufficient room to try themselves out in a different way and tap on new development opportunities, which is usually highly appreciated by those who felt oppressed by an authoritarian or self-centered precedessor.

The liberal start immediately raises the team spirit and creates high expectations. Consequently, the new manager receives very positive feedback, feels greatly supported by the team and believes to be on the right path. The team’s positive reaction proves that leaders can achieve more traction by establishing positive working relationships and motivating employees than via constant pressure demand for high performance.

Type “Master of the Trade”

This species of new managers has applied their exceptional functional or technical skills to master increasingly complex or difficult tasks in the past, which earned them recognition as outstanding talents. They turned to be masters of their trade and can be trusted to solve even the most delicate tasks.

Their natural tendency consists in actively managing the key tasks and projects of the department by themselves. They will ensure that they leverage all their long-lasting experience to make sure the result is delivered flawlessly.

In their logic, it is natural to take over the most demanding tasks themselves since they are the best expert in the team. They struggle to delegate their core competencies and fear to receive results which are not meeting their high expectations. They set the quality bar very high and invest time and effort to re-work or polish the result if the first draft delivered by their team members doesn’t fully hit their mark.

Type “Cautious Thinker”

Some recently promoted managers are more than aware about the weight of their new responsibilities. They fear to trip on a mine or make a major mistake that could severely impact the company, the team or their own career.

Before taking a decision, they try to gather all relevant facts, listen to the opinion of multiple stakeholders and ask more senior colleagues to get advice. While still busy taking in all relevant information and considering the different options, others start to lose their patience and doubt their decision-making qualities.

Type “Tough Cookie”

Employees who love speed and clarity flourish in their first leadership role from day one – finally they are the boss and can drive topics as fast and hard as they have always dreamed of.

As early as in their first team meeting, they will set a clear mark with a pointed speech, announcing new streamlined processes, increased quality expectations or  condensed deadlines. There will remain no doubt about their aspiration to be the bravest and toughest manager the company has seen for a long time. To succeed under their leadership, employees will have to demonstrate full dedication and deliver high performance, every single day.

… but they are likely to stumble into their own traps

Type “Everybody’s Darling”

Besides recognition and the chance to prove themselves, employees are looking for clarity and guidance.

They will reliably sense uncertainty in their superior and recognize the deeply rooted wish to please behind early favors and concessions.

Some team members will seize the opportunity and smartly benefit from it. They might push the boundaries, extend deadlines or create personal degrees of freedom which are perceived as unfair or out of balance by other team members.

The initially bright team spirit can turn into disappointment and resentment within a couple of months, leading to a decrease of performance output as well as lower morale, loyalty and team cohesion.

Type “Master of the Trade”

On the other hand, employees feel easily frustrated if their manager gets too involved and takes over the most complex or challenging tasks in person. They feel deprived of the chance to prove themselves, to shine and to grow.

By the boss stepping in, the roles of leader and individual contributor get fused, and employees lose clarity about their value contribution in the overall setup.

One of the first leadership lessons after promotion often consists in “un-learning” some of the former strengths from past roles, and to fully grow into the shoes of the manager. Giving up previous core competencies, or at least not practicing them any longer, might create uncertainty in the new leader, but it is required to assume a different role in the plot – the role of a leader.

The core tasks of leaders consist in defining the framework, setting goals, delegating tasks, evaluating results and giving feedback.

Every time young managers lapse into their former contributor roles, they prolong their trajectory to turn into successful leaders.

Type “Cautious Thinker”

Although new managers typically are granted a bit of a warm-up period before they fully have to sail close to the wind, their environment will wait for some early signals demonstrating that the newbee is taking up responsibility and acts accordingly – by making some changes or taking first decisions.

At the latest after about 100 days in the role, nobody will assume the manager is still in orientation stage, but expect full speed and suitable action. More sensitive or cautious personalities need to develop new habits to come to closure – otherwise their superior will have a first difficult conversation with them, or team members will start to circumvent official processes in order to get the directions and decisions they need to fully operate.

Type “Tough Cookie”

If leaders – male or female – already kick off their role by raising expectations or implicitly criticizing their team members for what they need to develop or improve, without investing the time to build a personal relationship, showing interest in their team members or motivating them by positive visions, they are likely to provoke resistance – or even flight reactions in some team members.

Employees love to engage for ambitious targets – if they feel appreciated as a person, and if they get encouraged, empowered and supported by their leaders. If their contribution is valued as vital to reach the joint goal and they have the chance to make a difference which is recognized inside and outside the team, they will readily go the extra mile.

But they will distrust managers who seemingly ask for the impossible, show little to no recognition for special achievements or use them to shine themselves instead of asking the team on stage.

The magic of leadership: striking the right balance

The art of leadership consists of finding a suitable balance between the different leadership requirements, which even sometimes seem to contradict each other.

This will naturally not happen on day one – every new leader will surely make more than one mistake in their early days, and very much so in line with their natural preferences and known strengths.

Leaders who consciously review their existing portfolio of leadership skills and become aware of their blind spots are most likely to develop missing competencies, while others who just focus on dealing with their daily tasks might get “frozen” at an early stage. Becoming a senior and balanced leader will not take months, but years.

Besides the dimensions of employee relationships, delegation of tasks, decision-making and defining the right level of requirements, other elements play a part, e.g. time management, focusing on the right priorities, or the co-called “upward management”.