7 Problems New Managers Often Face – And How to Overcome Them

August 26, 2016

Here’s a remarkable statistic – according to a study by the HR consultancy DDI, six out of 10 managers said that becoming a boss for the first time was second in stress level only to a divorce.

So, to recap – divorce is the most stressful thing you can go through. Second, for 60 percent of people, is getting a job that they likely worked really hard to get, and probably is one of their great accomplishments.

In some ways, this makes sense. Most of the people who are promoted into management are strong at their jobs, and are used to being a star. Then, they start something completely new, and expect to still be excellent.

Except they aren’t, because the skills needed to be a great manager are completely different than the skills needed to be a great individual contributor. So they spend their first year miserable, overworked and (frankly) largely ineffective.

This article is aimed at fixing that problem. Leveraging expert advice and research into the issue, we identified seven common problems new managers face – and offer solutions on how to overcome them.

1.    Thinking being a boss gives you instant authority.

Some people, when they become a boss, think it makes them a “Boss”, with a capital B. In other words, they think the new authority means they get to do what they want to do, how they want do it, and people will automatically respect and respond to whatever they say.

And then, five minutes into the job, they realize the exact opposite is true. They find their people don’t respect them (probably because they don’t respect their people), their people don’t do what they say (probably because they don't listen to their people) and, ultimately, their team underperforms (because they are underperforming as a leader).

Management guru and Lynda.com author Todd Dewett, in his course on new manager fundamentals, talks about being a “servant leader”. In other words, Dewett says great bosses work tirelessly to grow their own people, as that’ll bring out their best.

Of course, there are limits to this, which will be touched on in the following sections. There are times you need to be authoritative. But, if you want to gain someone’s respect and have them listen to you, ensure you are respectful and are listening to them.

In other words, the golden rule applies here – what you give to your people, they will give back to you.

2.    Trying to maintain the same relationships you had before you were a manager.

Here’s the opposite of the previous problem. A person becomes a boss, and yet wants to still keep the same friendships they had as an individual contributor, almost shunning their authority (think Michael Scott from The Office, as an extreme example).

Here’s the reality – once you become a boss, everything changes. The relationships you had with your colleagues cannot and will not be the same as the relationships you'll have with the people who work for you.

This often can be isolating to new managers, as they aren’t “part of the crew” in the way they once were. The way to overcome this is simple – get over it. Realize your employees cannot be your friends.

You are their boss, and while you obviously care about your employees, the truth is you aren’t going to have that same relationships you had as an individual contributor.

3.    Making an exception for a single employee and not realizing how others will react.

When a new manager is first brought on, they often want to get on their people's good side right away. So they meet with their new employees and try too hard to achieve all their wants and desires.

This can cause problems.

A small but poignant example is highlighted in the Harvard Business Review. A new sales manager was asked by a veteran salesperson if he could have an assigned parking spot at the office that opened up. The new sales manager said yes, thinking it would help him build a stronger relationship with that veteran salesperson.

After hearing the news, the highest performing salesperson on the team stormed into the new sales manager’s office and threatened to quit, arguing he should have gotten the parking spot.

Here’s the point – you can’t make decisions as a manager in a vacuum. You have to realize how your decisions will affect the overall culture of the team, and form foundational rules that you adhere to.

Otherwise, you are going to cause fires over something as insignificant as a parking spot.

4.    Thinking that your way of doing things is the only right way to do things.

Most new managers were outstanding individual contributors, which is why they were promoted in the first place, and then manage a team of people who are doing what they previously did. So their thinking is simple – I know how to do this, so my people should do it my way, and they’ll also be successful.

That doesn’t work. There are a lot of different ways to achieve the same goal, and if you demand everything be done your way, you are going to alienate large amounts of your team. New managers should consciously avoid becoming a micromanager by focusing on results, instead of process.

Here’s another problem with this as well – if you mandate one way for getting something done, you are drastically limiting your team’s creativity. If you want your team to be innovative, you need to be open-minded and confident enough to let people do things their way.

That said, if someone isn’t getting the job done, it is time to act. But, even in that case, it shouldn’t just be, “do it my way, because my way works.” Instead, figure out a way that’ll work for them.

5.    Not realizing how much work goes into being a manager.

There’s a misconception out there that managers have the easy life. Because they don’t have responsibilities in the same way an individual contributor has – as in, make 50 sales calls a day, write a certain amount of code – people think the job of manager will somehow be less work.

Boy, are they wrong. Truth is, new managers often work far more hours than they did before, and experience high levels of stress.

The reason partly comes down to experience. The longer you do a job, both the better you become at it and the less energy it takes to do. For example, it takes a software engineer far more effort to write their first line of code, as opposed to their 1,000th.

Managing is no different. Since new managers, by definition, have no experience, they have to work longer and harder than they will in a few years. Additionally, managers have additional pressures individual contributors don’t, and new managers tend to feel that pressure more acutely – which makes them work that much harder.

But, beyond that, managing people is hard. Incidents come up. Employees suddenly quit. People don’t do what they say they are going to do. There’s generally far more unpredictability in management, as opposed to being an individual contributor, and that makes for more work.

The solution here is just to be aware that a promotion to management means more stress and more hours, not less. If you go in knowing what to expect, it’ll be easier to manage.

6.    Thinking you have to do it all alone.

As mentioned in point two, new managers can feel isolated, as they can’t form the same relationships with their employees that they could with their colleagues. Some, in an effort to look composed, try to do it all by themselves – to their own determinant.

New managers should absolutely try to find a mentor they can discuss challenges with. They should absolutely take advantage of whatever training the company offers them. They should absolutely get drinks after work with fellow managers and talk through problems they are having.

Becoming a new manager isn’t easy. Holding it all inside and trying to do it all alone is a surefire way to failure. Instead, this is a time to lean on people – you can pay it back by mentoring a new manager years down the road.

7.    The most common problem of all – not communicating enough.

The biggest problem plaguing new managers is communication, or more precisely, lack thereof. The fact is, what you say (or don’t say) as a manager has a tremendous effect on your employees, and everything you do is under a microscope.

For example, maybe something is urgent and you have an employee who doesn’t see that. So you snap at them to get it done.

Sure, that might get them to do the task. But you’ve burned a bridge. While it might take more time, it behooves everyone in the long run to explain to the employee why the task is so urgent and why it is so critical for them to get it done.

Same goes for explaining your own working style and communication style. For example, if you are someone who is analytical instead of emotional, explain that. That can be the difference between coming across as cold, versus coming across as your authentic self.

There’s a great line in the Steve Martin movie My Blue Heaven where Martin says, “I don’t believe in tipping, I believe in over-tipping.” For managers, don’t communicate. Over-communicate.

Tying it all together

Management is the ultimate balancing act. You need to be strong, but also compassionate. You need to be flexible, but not too flexible. You need to have high expectations, but you also need to be understanding.

All that makes managing hard. And stressful. Particularly for new managers.

For organizations everywhere, you need to do what you can to support new managers and provide the training they need to excel. Not only because you don’t want new managers to be miserable, but also, because if they are ineffective, there’s massive implications on the bottom line as well.

*Image credit by Death to the Stock Photo

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