Why a Shift in Values Matters for New Managers

As a new manager, it may surprise you to learn that the competency which led to your promotion may not be enough to excel in your new role. This case study demonstrates the values shift and critical skills to help in your transition.

Through my conversations with new managers who are advancing to the next level, many are surprised that understanding the critical process of transition lays a solid foundation for their performance. Moreover, I find they are mainly concerned with adding the leadership skills required for that next level. Few realize that a change in leadership roles also requires a shift in values that are key to their positions.

Here, we look at John, who has been promoted to engineering manager. He is one of the most gifted coders on his team; he handles projects efficiently and never misses deadlines. Based on his merit, his manager promoted him to lead a team of front-end engineers. 

In his first month, John read up popular books for new managers like The Making of a Manager and The First-Time Manager to gain frameworks to transition from managing himself to managing others. He feels he has gained good knowledge on delegation, giving feedback, managing up, and performance management of his team members. 

However, John struggles with redefining what productivity looks like for him. When he was an individual contributor, productivity was evident through his coding and the products he delivered. These were reasons he was promoted. Now as a manager, his team’s performance can be measured, though his personal performance is less measurable. He is anxious about how his boss will measure his performance. 

A common learning curve for first-time managers
The anxiety to remain productive prompts him to jump in frequently, helping his team members resolve coding challenges. This is especially acute when pressure mounts and deadlines are tight. It comes naturally because he can complete the tasks faster and better. He wants to be a leader who makes his team efficient and creates a sense of comradery with his team members.

The result is that John fails to prioritize what his role needs to excel in: managing and empowering his team members. In the name of supporting them, he is not growing them. 

This is common among many first-time managers.

Shifting your values is imperative
A critical value shift is lacking here: John’s most important value for success in his new role is no longer mere productivity but empowerment—making others productive. Even though he still needs to perform specific productivity tasks, a large part of his new mission is to empower his team members to increase their productivity, not his. 

Not everyone enjoys this value shift. Many managers like rolling up their sleeves to do the actual work because it brings a sense of tangible accomplishment. In fact, giving up tasks that earn their promotion in the first place is counterintuitive.

Adding to the challenge of deciding candidates for promotion, many leaders have a hard time differentiating between the doers and those who have the potential to lead. Most promotion decisions are based on performance merits that are independent of any assessments of the individual’s leadership potential. 

Managers must focus on building relationships

Another important value shift is the role of relationship-building over producing tangible results. Although teamwork is vital for individual contributors, the actual work has precedence over building relationships, because the main task is to produce. But managers are highly interdependent. Not only do they need to win the trust of their team members, but they also need to collaborate across and upward. Relationships take precedence over productivity because they are a conduit for productivity. 

Prioritize delegation and communication
Among many new skills needed, two skills are most critical from these value shifts. Leadership training programs don’t provide enough training or support for these two competencies. 

  1. Effective delegation. Delegation involves job design: giving clear expectations, regular follow-up, helping to solve problems without taking over, measurement, rewards, and coaching others. It’s easier for first-time managers to take over the job when they feel delegation is too overwhelming a task, with no guarantee of the output quality. That’s when they can’t resist stepping in to help produce. 
  1. Effective communication. Two levels of communication are crucial: communicating clearly on the functional level to assign tasks and on the emotional level to build trust. The two types of communication look different when communicating downward, upward, and sideward.

Question for discussion: Did you make the necessary value shifts as you were promoted to the next level of leadership? What other value shifts are needed? 

Photo credit: Carl Heyerdahl from Unsplash


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