Coaching Insider: Trusting Your Team As a New Manager

In this series, we present BetterUp coaches with realistic scenarios that we commonly encounter (and struggle with) in the workplace. They walk us through how they’d coach a client through the challenge and identify possible solutions. Got an issue you’d like one of our coaches to tackle in a Coaching Insider feature? Email blog@betterup.co

The Scenario
Jerome was promoted to manager earlier this year and now manages a team of four. He’s completely overwhelmed with work and finds himself frequently working late nights and on the weekends. He wants the job to be done right and to succeed in his new role, so he holds himself and his team to a high level of quality. In one-on-ones with his team, he’s getting feedback that he’s micromanaging and that several members of his team want more responsibility. He wants his team to be happy but needs to feel confident in their output first.

Jerome’s situation isn’t atypical for a new manager. It’s likely that he’s never been been trained to manage people. And as a result, he’s probably struggling with several challenges: juggling an increased or different type of workload, and managing people who are more experienced, educated, or older than him. This can put a lot of pressure on a first time manager, and different people will cope with stress differently. But with the right analysis of the situation, we can come up with a plan that will alleviate some of Jerome’s challenges, set him on a path to success, and hopefully rebuild some trust between him and his team.

Understand the problem and establish goals

Every coaching conversation is about seeing what’s underneath the so-called “facts.”

Every coaching conversation is about seeing what’s underneath the so-called “facts.” To come up with a plan for Jerome, it’s important to understand what he believes it means to  be a good manager and where his struggles stem from.  To work through this situation, I’d start with a high-level conversation to help me understand Jerome’s goals. I’d specifically focus the conversation on the type of future he aspires to.
Based on this scenario, I could see some of Jerome’s goals might be:

  • To become a more strategic thought leader
  • To motivate my team to do their best
  • To trust my team with their ability to get high-quality work done

Jerome needs to understand that the shift from being an individual contributor to a manager is not just a change in responsibilities, but rather a shift in mindset.  
To guide the conversation, I’d ask the following types of questions:

  • Let’s imagine it’s three years from now and you’re a successful leader in your organization? What does your team say about you?
  • What does a good manager look like? How is this different from a good individual contributor?
  • Think of a great manager you’ve had. What made them great?

Once we’ve created some clarity around Jerome’s goals, we’d move onto the task of diving deeper into his self-perception, and deeper feelings like stress, anxiety, and trust.

Investigate stress level and self-awareness

It sounds like Jerome is under a lot of pressure, working late and on weekends. It’s important to determine if he’s aware of his state and if this situation is the result of a new, but temporary, work situation. Is it related to his transition into being a manager or fixing his team’s work? Or, does he just think he has to work this hard all the time?  

I often ask clients like Jerome when and where this tendency came from and how it’s serving them today.

To further enhance his self-awareness, we would discuss whether the demands of his job are driven by the organization, his manager, or if they’re self-imposed. I’d ask Jerome if he has any insecurities regarding his position. Often, new managers think they have to be subject matter experts above and beyond what their team members know. This belief drives them to want to learn and do more than the team to prove themselves as worthy of the position. It might be worth talking about how unfeasible this work style might be with all the [new] demands of his job. I’d encourage Jerome to articulate what it is that he needs to know, and at what level. This might also be a good time for Jerome to evaluate his perfectionistic tendencies. I often ask clients like Jerome when and where this tendency came from and how it’s serving them today. Inviting Jerome to be an observer of his tendency can help him come up with strategies to manage it.
To guide the conversation, I’d ask the following types of questions:

  • Is this the way you will have to work from now on? If so, how will you manage your stress? Are there things you can let go of to make your work more manageable?
  • To what degree do you believe you’re a perfectionist?
  • To what degree do you have to know the details of the work everyone else is doing in your team? What would your team say about that?

Now that I’ve gotten Jerome to dig deeper into his tendencies, and started to give him some tools to overcome them, we’d move on to getting a better understanding of his team dynamics.

Explore team relationships

Leadership is not just about doing stuff, it’s about creating culture, building relationships, sharing visions, motivating and moving forward.

New managers often think they have to figure everything out alone or should know how to do everything without help or guidance from anyone else. But this is simply not the case. Enhancing relationships throughout the organization as well as in his own team will ultimately help Jerome recognize that he’s not in this alone, and his success relies on a better connection with his teammates. Now, I’d assess Jerome’s relationship with his team members, the culture within the team, frequency of one-on-one meetings, group meetings, and his assessment of the degree and quality of team communication. How well does he know his staff, their strengths, their development needs, etc.?

Trust is a crucial part of a positive relationship.

Leadership is not just about doing stuff, it’s about creating culture, building relationships, sharing visions, motivating and moving forward. Building stronger connections with his teammates will help Jerome become a better leader. Based on the fact that he’s not willing to delegate much, it sounds like Jerome is having a hard time trusting his team. Trust is a crucial part of a positive relationship. It’s up to Jerome to demonstrate that he trusts them and he can do this by allowing them a certain degree of authority and autonomy. If they fail, he can always come back to the conversation as a supportive partner and ask them what happened.
To guide the conversation, I’d ask the following types of questions:

  • How would you describe your relationship with your team members?
  • What kind of a culture would you like to cultivate in your team?

Now that we have identified what Jerome needs to consider, we can think about the solutions.

Presenting a set of solutions

The coaching process includes two steps: identifying problems and goals, and then generating tactical solutions together. In Jerome’s case, decreasing stress levels while being a more strategic and motivational leader are key results. Let’s explore how we can get him there.

Rethink your role: manager as coach

Coach task: Think about ways to help his team come up with their own solutions and report back.

One of the barriers to Jerome trying the coach approach might come down to time. He might be concerned about how long it takes to ask questions rather than just telling people what to do.  If Jerome is constantly rescuing his team or doing their work, they can’t improve. Being a coach allows Jerome to focus on strategic issues that will drive his whole team forward. A coaching management style allows Jerome to not only get the job done at a higher quality but to also develop his team members at the same time. New managers tend to get bogged down with thinking that it’s their job to drive development-related conversations. With the coaching approach, it’s up to each team member to come up with how they think they did, what it is they want to work on next, and when they can deliver by. Development conversations are also easier if Jerome knows his team’s strengths and shares this knowledge with them. Coaching the team is about co-creating the development plan.
To guide the conversation, I’d ask the following types of questions:

  • What would your team members say about their career development plans and their future in your organization?
  • What is at risk if you keep on doing what you have been doing?

Motivate your team (or lose them)

Managers need to know the what and explain the why and then allow the team member to come up with the how.

If Jerome’s team is not satisfied with the quality of their work environment, doing meaningful work, or feel valued by their manager, they will leave. Interviewing and onboarding new team members takes away the momentum and adds to Jerome’s responsibilities. Taking the time and learning how to be a coach to his team makes sense for the business and his own peace of mind.
As a leader, Jerome needs to motivate his team by shifting from a directive manager to a coaching leader. I would spend time in our sessions making sure he truly understands the value of this and is onboard with making that shift. I often use the analogy of shifting from being a star quarterback on a football team to a star coach. Motivation requires a different skill set than being a strong player. A good manager knows their team members’ individual strengths and how to align those strengths with the work that needs to be done. Managers need to know the what and explain the why and then allow the team member to come up with the how. From there, a good manager should be able to communicate high level expectations, deadlines, and then ask for what the team member needs to accomplish them. Together, they can co-create a plan for ongoing updates to ensure that projects are on track. Team members need to feel valued, trusted and supported in order to do their best work.
Beginning to wrap up our session, I’d ask Jerome the following questions:

  • When was the last time you spent time with your team asking them about their aspirations, experience, or how they motivated themselves?
  • What would your team say about your aspirations, experience or what motivates you?
  • How would you know if your team was ready to take on a higher level of responsibility?

Wrap up & reflect

Being a new manager is a tremendous opportunity to grow and lead. Sometimes you do both at the same time. The important shift from being an individual contributor to a manager can go much more smoothly if you understand that your role is now to be a coach and motivate your team. Becoming a great manager means giving up control and trusting your team. Reflecting on the questions posed in this article can help new managers understand their goals, obstacles and develop better relationships with the team.
Original art by Vaclav Bicha.