4 vital skills for new supervisors (because good workers don’t necessarily make good managers)

Recently, I was in a discussion with a new supervisor in one of our client companies. This was the first time she had taken on a leadership role, and she was about six months into the job. Most of her 15 reports were folks she had worked with for at least three or four years. When I asked her how things were going, she said “okay” without much conviction.

As we continued the conversation, I got the sense that she was quite frustrated. Here was a woman who had excelled at her job before taking on the leadership position. She was the expert. Unfortunately, as often happens, the person who gets the big promotion is the expert at doing “it,” not necessarily the expert at leading a group of 15 people who need to do “it.”

We got into more detail. She said she was still trying to be everybody’s friend, while at the same time being their boss. In order to accomplish this very difficult — if not impossible — task, she would let people get away with things and not really hold them as accountable as she should. As a result, her people developed poor work habits and got poor results. In one case, after being nice with one person one too many times, she finally exploded. If there were a reason for a new supervisor to be frustrated, she was in the middle of it. The only time she was really happy on the job was when she came in and did things herself.

The reason we were talking in the first place was to get her connected with one of our leadership training programs. She was primed to take another step in the learning department.

The scenario above is not new. It has been around forever and will continue to be an issue as people grow in their careers: from line worker to supervisor to manager to director to vice president and so forth. What the scenario points out is summed up in the title of a book by Marshall Goldsmith: What Got You Here Won’t Get You There. In other words, the skill set that is needed to do “it” is completely different from motivating and guiding others to do “it.”

My guess is that some of you know of the great salesman who was promoted to sales manager and failed miserably. It could also be the superb machine operator, the genius software engineer, the advertising whiz, or any number of other positions where exactly the same thing happens.

If you want a promotion to a new position — especially that first one into a leadership role — to work well, be sure you are coaching this new leader in the skills that are necessary at that level. A combination of training and coaching is vital at this juncture.

What new skills are vital?


Learn quickly that your job is to build people and help them be successful. Hold them accountable to smart goals. If handled right, accountability is a very good thing. Don’t fall into the trap of doing things yourself.


Learn effective coaching and leadership techniques. Recognize individual and team success. Be there to support, not to do. Strengthen teamwork and cooperation. Motivate the team.



Managing conflict and change

Handle mistakes with consideration and respect. Resolve conflict effectively and positively. Help people accept and embrace new policies and methods.


Promote interactive communication with your team. Get ideas across concisely so that everyone is on the same page. Strengthen your listening skills.

As new leaders grow and become more proficient in the skills above, their confidence begins to grow. As that transformation takes hold, effectiveness increases and they earn the right to their new title. Jack Welch, former chairman of GE, summed it up this way: “Giving people self-confidence is by far the most important thing that I can do. Because then they will act.”

Click here to sign up for the free IB ezine – your twice-weekly resource for local business news, analysis, voices, and the names you need to know. If you are not already a subscriber to In Business magazine, be sure to sign up for our monthly print edition here.