We just promoted a fabulous team leader to assistant manager. As a team leader, he was collaborative, full of new ideas and everyone loved him. But now, it's like he's had a personality change. He's nitpicky, only gives negative feedback and has become super demanding. How do I coach him back to being the person he was before?
Managing the Manager
There are two potential problems here. First, I’m guessing that as a team leader, this individual had no disciplinary power, and now he does. Sometimes, this level of authority gets to people’s heads. Second, people learn to manage by watching their managers, so I suspect that he learned these skills from a boss that was equally nitpicky, demanding and prone to focus on negative feedback.
Your new assistant manager was supportive as a team leader because he was protecting the staff from the manager. Now, he’s a manager, and is convinced that this is how managers behave. I’ve seen this situation happen over and over again. So, let’s fix it.
Create a Conversation
Sit down with the new assistant manager and say exactly what you’ve said here: "You used to be supportive and now you find fault with everything. Why did you change the way you lead?"
I like using the word "lead" instead of "manage" because he obviously understood leadership as a team leader. Now, it’s important to find out why he thinks of the term "manager" as a different ball of wax. Listen to his answers. He may, for example, say that he didn’t realize how many problems needed fixing before he was promoted—and perhaps there’s truth to this. However, it’s critical to emphasize to him that nothing gets fixed through negativity.
Tell him that you want him to be the leader he was before—just at a higher-level and with more influence. Explain his responsibilities clearly and emphasize the leadership aspect.
Leverage the Learning Opportunity
This situation is an excellent opportunity to offer your manager learning resources and opportunities. So many companies don’t provide formal training for their new managers, but if you want good leadership, you need to train for it.
Learning content—including courses on how to communicate so that others listen or how to deliver feedback constructively—can enable your manager to more effectively engage with his team. And be sure to offer him learning resources that train him for leadership and management in tandem, because while the two are related, they’re not synonymous. To understand the difference, it’s helpful to think of leadership as the goal, and management as the grunt work. In providing him with the tools to make him a good manager and leader, you’re empowering him to let go of everything that makes him a not-so-good one.
Be sure to act as soon as possible. The longer you let him manage poorly, the harder it will be to get him to change. And his employees will become disgruntled and resent him. This is an assistant manager you can save—you know he has the ability. Don’t drop the ball now. Get in there quickly and teach him how to lead and manage at the same time.
Suzanne Lucas, Evil HR Lady
For more advice from our ReWorker, check out her column here.