Promoted Too Fast

We were under the gun to replace a manager who left suddenly. So, we promoted her assistant. That’s not working out as well as we had hoped. But we want to give her a chance before we look for someone else. What do you suggest?

In his 1988 hit movie “Big,” Tom Hanks portrays a 12-year-old boy who asks a mechanical swami at a carnival to grant his wish to be grown up. Instantly, his wish is fulfilled and he finds himself as a little kid trapped in the body of a grown man. The trouble is, he has skipped several natural development stages and misses, what one Washington Post reviewer called, “the coded social language of adults.” The disconnect makes for good comedy.

However, in the real world, skipping development steps isn’t always a laughing matter. As difficult as it is to go from being 12 to 28, it is equally hard to go from being an individual contributor to being a good manager without understanding that their behavior – the way they interact with others- needs to change. Often, those who are promoted too quickly don’t know what they don’t know.

Most organizations promote productive employees into managerial positions based on their technical competence. Very often, however, many fail to grasp how their roles have changed; that their jobs are no longer about personal achievement but instead about enabling others to achieve; that sometimes driving the bus means taking a backseat: and that building a team is often more important than making a sale.

Using the analogy of an orchestra, a new manager must move from being a talented violinist who concentrates on playing his or her instrument skillfully to being a conductor who coordinates the efforts of all the musicians. Even the best new managers can have trouble adjusting to these new realities

Here are four tips for coaching those promoted too fast.

  1. Don’t Expect Instant Results.
    Change can take longer than expected because the new manager usually needs to become aware of how specific behavior is hindering his/her performance in the new role before being willing to change.
  2. Set Expectations Upfront.
    Especially in terms of the length of time and commitment required to accomplish tasks that require working with team members. Highly skilled individual contributors are accustomed to achieving their goals rapidly and are not as comfortable taking a long time to get results.
  3. Initially Concentrate on Easier to Achieve Results.
    Focus on a handful of behavioral changes that will be the easiest to get results from and that will most quickly close the development gap. This will build the confidence of the client, his/her manager, and the organization. It is important to show some early successes so that everyone can see the initial results of coaching.
  4. Focus on And Magnify Strengths.
    It is easy to identify weaknesses but it is essential to quickly identify what the performer does well. Equally important, the person needs to understand how to best use these strengths in his/her new role. What often gets a person into trouble is not the strengths themselves, but either overusing them or relying solely on them without developing other compensating

Smart Moves Tip:

What it takes to succeed as a new manager is a matter of learning new ways of working and most importantly letting go of old ones – even if they have driven her career success up until now. New managers must also find new ways of deriving personal and career satisfaction from their work and measuring their success. This is a critical mental switch that effective managers must make. Also see Letting Go is Hard to Do but Necessary and Five Cardinal Rules of Effective Leadership.

What has been your experience as a new manager or supervising new managers? What were some lessons learned?

What’s Your Specific Challenge?

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Marcia Zidle
Marcia Zidle
Marcia Zidle, The Smart Moves Coach, is a national known board certified coach and keynote leadership speaker who guides organizations that are planning, or in the midst of, ambitious growth and change. As a career strategist, she works with professionals, managers and executives who want to build • shape • brand • change • vitalize their careers. She’s been selected by LinkedIn’s ProFinder as one of the best coaches for 2016!Her clients range from private owned businesses to mid-market companies to professional service firms to NGO’s. With 25 years of management, business consulting and international experience, she brings an expertise in executive and team leadership; employee engagement and innovation; personal and organization change; career building and development; emotional and social intelligence. Your Future Starts Now With Marcia!

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  1. Very good topic, Marcia! Thank you for a good post.
    In my early career, leaving to start a new job, my manager said: “Keep in mind, that you don’t want to be promoted too fast.” I never forgot these words. It was a good advice because it made me consider well each step I made. In training new managers I’ve always focused on integrity. Trust comes through the display of integrity. The second value I’ve emphasized is teaming & collaboration.
    I try to be as transparent as I can because I know that eventually, new managers will need to manage on their own. It’s not easy, but at the end, for any person, coming into or in our line of industry (global telco) – the job is tough. Whenever you reach another status, we’re all “promoted early” in one sense or another.

  2. Way too many managers don’t realize that many management best practices come from 400 years ago; from a time where there was no such thing as knowledge workers or high performance cultures — workers were considered uneducated and at times, unskilled. Management has a strong orientation to treating people as things. A successful manager treats people as people.