By Joel A. Miller, ChateauHR Consulting
Roles change dramatically when you get promoted to middle management. Many newly-promoted managers fall flat on their face because no one told them this simple truth – you need a different leadership style to succeed at higher levels. The skills that got you promoted ARE NOT the skills you’ll need now…
Kathy had turned around the tasting room at Premium Estates. She doubled direct sales while building a great team. The rejuvenated team sang praises to her decisive leadership style, infectious energy, and her creativity. Geoff, Premium’s GM, was sure she’d shine in her new role as DTC Leader. Kathy was excited to take this next step on her career path. She now managed the new tasting room manager, the wine club team, and the facilities team. It was a lot more responsibility, and Kathy felt ready.
The troubles started early in the second month. Fred, the new tasting room manager hired from a renowned Walla Walla winery, was bristling about Kathy’s not allowing him room to breathe. The wine club manager Sheila, a salty veteran of 20 years, was griping about Kathy’s constant stream of instructions “to change this, do that.” And Trevor, the facilities manager, was upset that Kathy overrode his recent decisions about landscaping. She shifted budget money out of much-needed maintenance work to buy some new display tables and racks for the tasting room. The team wasn’t happy, and Kathy sensed a problem…but she knew that change required some discomfort.
By month four, the wheels began to come off the cart. Fred suddenly resigned, saying that he needed to return to Walla Walla to care for his elderly mother. Trevor was hard-to-find, seemingly out with vendors or inspecting a new site whenever Kathy had scheduled a meeting. Sheila and Kathy weren’t talking to each other, and recent club numbers were trending down. GM Geoff was breathing down her neck about the slippage in club sales, as the fourth quarter was now in doubt. “We’ve got to get those numbers up,” he shared at their last meeting.
Kathy was flummoxed. All of the skills and talents she used to succeed in the Tasting Room had seemingly disappeared…everyone was upset at her. What went wrong? What should she do?
Kathy’s challenge here – totally typical in new managers – is that she assumed that managing managers was the same as managing her previous team. Au contraire. Her tasting room team looked to her for regular guidance, direction, and decisions. But her new team of managers wanted and needed room. They had many years of experience, and knew their base business well. Every time that Kathy would jump into a discussion and push her answers, the gap widened…and the more insistent she became, the more the managers resisted. A downward spiral…
At Kathy’s next meeting with Geoff, she shared her frustrations. She wondered if perhaps her new team wasn’t as strong as she first thought. Geoff, having a sense of what was going on, didn’t bite. He turned the spotlight right back on Kathy. “Talk to me about your team meetings…” he asked. As they talked, Geoff began to get the picture. And he switched into coaching mode, as he saw Kathy was near tears. “Let’s play this back a bit,” he shared. “How would you react if your last manager told you all the answers? What might you be thinking?”
“Well, I suppose I’d politely ask him to back off,” she shared. “And I’d wonder why he felt the need to micromanage me.” She stopped before saying anything else… “Oh…” she sighed.
Now she saw the light. Good managers need and want “room to manage.” Good leaders assess each manager’s capabilities, and provide enough room to have managers own their decisions and results. Some managers want and need a lot of room, while others like more input and direction. There is no “one size fits all.” When Kathy continued to control her managers with a tight rein, they rebelled in subtle ways…or left.
The moral of the story is that leading a team of managers requires an elevated skillset. That skillset includes many capabilities that aren’t obvious nor taught in schools. Most learn it OJT (on the job), with some hard knocks along the way. For senior leaders (those who lead their departments or organizations), they need to step up their coaching and stay close with newly-promoted managers to help guide their efforts and help them get started “on the right foot.”