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How to help new managers develop the skills they need most

The transition from individual contributor to manager is one of the most exciting and challenging moments in a person’s career. Being a good manager requires a unique skill set, one that doesn’t always come easily. These “soft skills,” like emotional intelligence for example, are the cornerstones of successful leadership. The more these skills can be taught to new managers, the more readily they can take on the mantle of being a true leader.

New managers, whether recently promoted or hired externally, should invest in cultivating their leadership capacity from day one. Here are some of the most valuable skills your new managers should focus on and how they can be incorporated into new manager training. 

1. Communication

Communication isn’t just one skill. It’s a suite of skills that manifest in a dozen ways every day. It’s rare for someone to ascend to management without strong communication skills, but establishing communication norms with a new team always takes time. 

Here are a few ways new managers will be approaching communication from a new angle:

  • Active listening in one-on-one conversations with direct reports
  • Facilitating meetings and group conversations
  • Recognizing nonverbal communication cues in a group 
  • Written communication with their team and other leaders 

One great way to support new managers in their communication skills is by providing support for one-on-one meetings. These are a managers’ touchpoint with their team on an individual level, and the best place for them to build rapport. Creating guidelines for how one-on-ones are structured at your company can give new managers a head start on this important skill. 

2. Feedback and Support

Constructing and delivering hard feedback for the first time can be challenging. Even providing positive feedback that is specific enough to be useful is a skill that takes time to develop. Providing support to team members is a core job requirement of management, but it’s easy to cross the line from “how can I help” to “let me help.”

For new managers who are struggling to provide constructive feedback or useful support to their teams, it’s important to focus on ways to simplify the feedback process. Train new managers on this skill by providing coaching and role playing to help managers prepare for tough conversations. When managers take the time to prepare and deliver constructive feedback thoughtfully, their team will be more successful.

3. Delegation

This can be one of the most challenging skills for new managers to learn, especially those who were selected because of their strengths as an individual contributor. It’s also not a soft skill that’s easy to evaluate until someone is in a managerial position, so it often requires additional attention.

A common concern among new managers is that delegating too much makes them look incompetent. After all, they were elevated to management because of their ability to “get things done.” If they don’t actually do those things anymore, imposter syndrome can set in quickly. However, this skill is key to the transition from individual contributor to manager. 

Ensuring that new managers understand that delegation will make them successful is important. Setting new managers up for success in this skill comes down to the basics of role clarity. When transitioning from individual contributor to manager, give each new manager a new role description. This resource should clarify what portion of their role remains about direct contribution, and what portion relies on the output of the people they manage. 

4. Balanced Productivity 

New managers can overcompensate, working harder than others and ignoring the need to delegate to prove themselves. While it’s great to see people working hard, when a new manager ignores work life balance, they can slip into being overworked and even become burnt out. 

Besides setting the wrong example for their team, overworked managers aren’t able to focus on other skills like communication, feedback, or delegation properly because they are stressed. This chain reaction can spiral out of control quickly and lead to a sense of failure from your new manager, and frustration from their team. 

If your company already has a system for goal planning, like OKRs, this translates nicely into training for new managers. When each person on their team has clear priorities, it becomes easier for a new manager to find focus and be productive without overwork. 

5. Decision making 

New managers should be well versed in making decisions for themselves, but now their decisions impact a team which adds complexity. They also need to be able to support their direct reports in making decisions. Two of the strategies mentioned above, role descriptions and OKRs, can also help new managers be decisive. When company and team priorities are clear, it’s easier for new manager to know what’s right. 

Another lightweight strategy for new managers who are struggling with decision making is a “RACI” framework. RACI stands for responsible, accountable, consulted and informed and provides a matrix of people for each role. Just seeing this framework on paper for a big project can help managers understand where the decision making power lies, and that it’s often with them. 

Developing the Right Skills for New Managers at Scale

With a foundation in communication that builds trust, providing candid feedback, knowing when to delegate and how to prioritize and be decisive, your new managers are on the right path. 

For new managers hoping to become great leaders, it’s important to continuously develop and practice these soft skills. Most people will have blind spots in how they communicate, interact, and lead others. With support from human resources, senior executives, mentors and coaches, however, managers can build a strong foundation and become great leaders for their team.

Leadership books can be a useful resource for new managers as well. To access top recommendations for leadership books, download 18 Leadership Books For Every Stage Of Your Career