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Three misconceptions of newly promoted managers

Updated: Oct 27, 2021

As managers and leaders are shaped irrevocably by their first management positions I'd like to share some insights, because it is crucial not to leave them to their fate. Both organizations and individuals suffer considerably when a person has been promoted because of strong individual performance and then fails to adjust to management responsibilities.

Misconception #1: nothing is going to change too much

Though it is essential to remain yourself, if you stick only to what you know works, you are going to fail as a new boss. One of the biggest pitfalls for new leaders is not letting go of the past and failing to embrace the new requirements of the role. Sure, managers must see to it that everything runs smoothly, but they have to realize they are also responsible for initiating changes that will enhance their team's performance. In order to be able to do so, they need to grasp the complexity of the organization and work on their influence beyond their own team or department. If not, they will not be able to make changes that, more often than not, require challenging processes outside their area of formal authority.

Once this sinks in, they discover that their role is even more demanding than they’d anticipated. They learn that the skills required for success as an individual contributor and those required for success as a manager are very different. It's only normal there is a gap between their current capabilities and the requirements of the new position, where they are responsible for a group's performance.

In this context we can only recommend to seek help when or wherever needed. It's yet another misconception that this is being perceived as a sign of weakness. On the contrary, it demonstrates character. It gives evidence you have the guts to admit you don't have all the answers, but that you are going to figure it out.

And more unexpected changes are luring around the corner. Former peers will watch your every move. They might be jealous to some extent and though you've always had a perfectly fine relationship with them before, the interpersonal relations will change more than you could anticipate. Managers are part of "the other side". Conversations will numb at the coffee machine and they won't confide in you as they did before.

Misconception #2: I have to set my mark and I have to do it fast.

People are not born as a manager. They need to grow into the new role. Learning to lead is a process of learning by doing and it can’t be taught in a classroom. It is a skill primarily acquired through on-the-job experiences and it is the negative experiences where you learn the most. When you're new in your role, you have to accept it is going to be a process of trial and error and that's hard, especially since you have been outperforming in your previous job.

That's why there are better alternatives than marching in on your first day and throwing everything upside down. Don't immediately ditch or overhaul the old way of doing things. Spend plenty of time observing first. Gather data, build trust and dare to ask questions. When you're new in your role, it is very insightful to have 1 on 1's with your team. It's the ideal occasion to ask for their input. My favorites are “What is the one thing we should change?”, “What is one thing we should definitely not change?" and "Tell me something I don't want to hear." Only then you can come up with a plan that has more chances of succeeding.

Misconception #3: I am finally in control.

New managers too often believe their power is based on the formal authority that comes with their position in the hierarchy. It's no surprise they yearn for compliance from their subordinates. This implies they incline to adopt an autocratic approach, not necessarily because they want to exercise their new power, but because they are convinced that this is how it's done in order to get results. Unfortunately, it doesn't work that way. When direct reports are "ordered" to do something, chances are real they won't respond or react as expected. This is a very unsettling finding.

Moreover, even if new managers are able to achieve some degree of control, they often mistake compliance for commitment. Needless to say that groups give evidence of far better performance if they are committed, and therefore take initiative. It's only when time passes that new managers learn that true power comes from character and credibility and that doesn't happen before they have earned people’s respect and trust.

Want to know more?

Anja Cappelle, the author of this post, gives workshops and trainings on this topic.

Further reading

  • Becoming a Manager, How New Managers Master the Challenges of Leadership by Linda A. Hill

  • The First 90 Days, Updated and Expanded. Proven Strategies for Getting Up to Speed Faster and Smarter by Michael D. Watkins

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