New managers should expect a learning-curve when transitioning into a leadership position for the first time. The process of adapting to new responsibilities, goals, and challenges takes persistence and determination, along with support from our peers, mentors, and superiors.
Moving From Peer to Boss
Moving from peer to boss can be challenging because you will need to establish a new relationship with friends who were peers and draw upon the boundaries of that new relationship when making decisions.
Failing to change this dynamic can create a myriad of managerial challenges. Workplace productivity may suffer if employees shift their focus from actual work to discussing personal problems. Employees may interpret honest feedback as a personal attack. They may challenge your authority and pushback on certain decisions.
New leaders need to demonstrate their commitment to managing fairly, firmly, and in the best interests of the company. Their words and actions must make it clear that they will not let previous relationships interfere with meeting the goals and objectives of the team or department. This does not mean you should stop being friendly or approachable; but rather, establish your role as someone with authority who is responsible for making decisions, delegating work, and leading a team.
Challenges to Authority
It's not unusual for a manager to face a challenge to her authority. Some employees may seek to test the boundaries to see how you will react. You may encounter passive resistance, attempts to block or alter your plans, or even outright disrespect or hostility. It's important to keep your cool and not overreact.
Managers must also distinguish between respectful and professional challenges to their thinking and methods, which can be clarifying and productive, and attempts to undermine their effectiveness. Destructive challenges to authority can surface in different forms: indirectly, by completing tasks but not in the way or manner you have asked, or through inappropriate complaining or sarcasm, or directly through deliberate rudeness or tardiness; insubordination; or in outright confrontation.
An employee who is seeking to damage a manager's credibility or effectiveness may hope to cause a public explosion or display of emotion by the manager. Handling any conflict in private is critical. A manager should be ready to say "Let's take this off-line," or "Why don't the two of us discuss this in my office?" to defuse any tense situations in public.
Managers must make it clear to a disruptive employee that there will be consequences if the behavior continues, including disciplinary action. If the situation calls for the beginning of a disciplinary process, it's important to discuss the situation in advance with your superior and Human Resources, so there are no surprises.
Not all of the obstacles that new managers face come from external sources. Feelings of inadequacy and self-doubt are also persistent challenges. These feelings can be especially acute for women in management positions. A study by the Institute of Leadership and Management found half of the manager included in the study who identified as women reported self-doubt in their performance, whereas fewer than a third of managers who identified as men reported self-doubt.1
It is important to remember that you are not in a managerial position by accident. At times you may need to re-frame your thoughts so that you can accurately assess your performance, rather than defaulting to thoughts of inadequacy and doubt. It is also helpful to communicate with peers and mentors who can provide advice, perspective, and encouragement.
Studies show that unconscious gender bias is still alive and well in the workplace.2 Gender stereotypes, in particular, have great influence over our thoughts and actions—from the language we use to how we perceive those in power.
New managers who are women may find that the employees they manage have a hard time reconciling their expectations about how a manager should act with their expectations about women. For instance, a decisive woman may be perceived as aggressive or rude, which is a penalty that would not apply to a man who demonstrates the same behavior. On the other hand, if a woman is not decisive enough, others may question her ability to manage others effectively.
Fortunately, the workplace landscape is ever-changing, and more women are filling leadership positions and challenging these stereotypes. To combat the implicit and explicit effects of bias, it is important to establish clear, measurable goals and record your accomplishments for performance reviews and evaluations. Lastly, develop a strong network of peers. Every manager—regardless of gender—can benefit from a system of partnership and support.
- Hamerstone, James, and Lindsay Musser Hough. A Woman's Framework for a Successful Career and Life. Palgrave Macmillan, 2013.
- "Breaking Barriers: Unconscious Gender Bias in the Workplace." ACT/EMP Research Note, Bureau for Employers' Activities (ACT/EMP), Aug 2017, www.ilo.org/wcmsp5/groups/public/---ed_dialogue/---act_emp/documents/publication/wcms_601276.pdf.