How to Manage Other Managers: Coaching Employees in Leadership Positions

how to mentor a manager


Managing and Mentoring The Leaders that Work For You

We recently posted an article about the art of mentoring, which primarily centered on coaching junior staff who are just beginning their careers.  We wanted to go further into the topic of mentoring, but focus on a different group.  As your career advances, your organization gets larger.  Eventually, you get to the point where you are supervising other managers.  However, effectively guiding the development of someone in a managerial position requires you use different skills than when you are coaching an entry-level staffer.  Managers, after all, are more experienced and have more responsibility.  Their needs are not the same as the employees that work for them, and their work challenges are different from when they were first starting out.  That said, even though they are managers themselves, they still look to you as a role model.  Ultimately, your job is to develop and mentor them to become the future leaders of your organization.  Let’s walk through some tips for managing other managers.

1. Teach Them Things You Already Learned

First line managers are often first-time managers.  Their hard work and dedication got them their first management role.  You’ve already been there.  Take a moment to think about all the hard lessons you learned, as well how you dealt with the multitude of management dilemmas the first time you encountered them.  Be very deliberate with frequent one on one meetings with new managers.  During these sessions, make it a point to ask them what challenges they’re facing.  Are they struggling to manage their time?  Are they having a hard time giving critical feedback to employees?  Are they managing tasks, or are they managing people? Lend a helping hand along the way to help them avoid common mistakes.  Coaching them through struggle will accelerate their development as leaders.

RELATED: 20 New Manager Mistakes

2. Emphasize Strong Communication

Being knowledgeable and experienced is no longer enough to make someone successful when they step into a management role.  According to an MRH Poll, 50% of people say that communication skills are the most important aspect of becoming a good boss.  This is communication both in written form, as well as in verbal exchange – it needs to be clear, frequent, and consistent.  When developing your front line managers, emphasize that communication is one of the most important skills they need to develop to become an effective leader.

Suggested Ways to Develop This Skill:

  • Hold Skip Level Meeting Their Staff to Collect Direct Feedback You Can Share
  • Deliver Prompt Feedback When You Observe Communication Issues
  • Assign Tasks That Help Them Practice Their Communication Skills, Like Presenting to Customers, or Publishing a Department Newsletter

3. Talk to Them About That Thing Called Leadership

Good managers know that strong leadership is a tremendous asset to any organization. Further, they know that leadership is not about having authority, but rather being highly influential.  Unfortunately, it usually takes time (sometimes years) in a management assignment before we really understand the value of having strong leaders within our teams.  A great to way to get your first-line managers to realize this sooner is to ask them who they think are the most effective leaders and managers in your company. Then ask them to consider what it is that makes those leaders so great.  Finally, ask them what effect it would have on the organization if those leaders were to suddenly disappear. Talking about leadership is not only relevant to the development of the first-line manager, but also to help him or her realize why they will want to develop new leaders within their own staff.

RELATED: Leadership Style Defined in 9 Questions

4. Develop Their Business Acumen

Nothing will make a manager – at any level – less effective than not really understanding how their organization operates.  This is not to say that managers must be experts in every function or discipline.  But it does mean they should understand the roles and responsibilities of the various teams throughout the organization, and how to make things happen. Who should they contact when a customer needs support?  Where do they go if they have questions about their budget?  Your first line managers should be able to clearly explain how the organization works, and how it adds value to customers.  Additionally, you don’t just want them to know how to recognize a problem, but rather how to solve it when they see one.

Suggested Ways to Develop This Skill:

  • Have A Managers Spend Time with Various Department Leaders To Learn About Other Functions
  • Setup Standard Training for New Managers in Your Organization Focused on The Organization Itself – It’s Vision, as Well as the Annual Processes It Follows

5. Reinforce A Foundation of Ethics

Whether it’s handling the day-to-day pressures of the competitive business environment, or remaining true to doing business fairly when working with a customer, everyone from executives down to first-level supervisors routinely encounter ethical dilemmas.  Need evidence?  Just pull up the news on your Smart Phone and you’ll find countless stories about business misconduct, bribery, and corruption.  But don’t misunderstand: ethical issues are harmful well-before they reach the point of becoming a scandal.  You serve as the moral compass for your organization, just as the managers that report to you serve as the moral compass for theirs.  If employees do not feel the leadership of their organization is ethical, it will have a lasting negative impact throughout the entire company.

Suggested Ways to Develop This Skill:

  • Annual Ethics Refresher Training, Led by Company Executives
  • Distribute a Monthly “Ethics Minute” Newsletter Featuring a Current News Story with an Ethical Issue and Discuss in Staff Meetings

6. Coach on Composure

The ability to clearly frame up a situation, eloquently walk through complex data or to succinctly make a point so that others can take action is essential in business.  Doing so under pressure, such as in the presence of an angry customer, requires another level of composure entirely.  A management team that can communicate effectively and can remain calm in stressful situations is always better at handling complex and delicate circumstances.  Added bonus: having leaders with strong managerial composure serves as an excellent role model for their junior staff.

Suggested Ways to Develop This Skill:

7.  The Ability to Organize

Bringing order to chaotic situations is tough.  When faced with a major challenge (which happens all the time) and in a room full of people, the most immediate and efficient path to resolution starts with a strong leader.  An effective leader will help the team outline the situation, conceive possible outcomes, foresee challenges ahead of them, as well as organize and motivate the team to take action. By contrast, when managers are unable to effectively organize a team, it puts added strain on you and the entire organization.  Ensure the development plans of your managers center around strengthening their organizational skills.

RELATED: Managing In Difficult Times

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8. Discuss Decision Quality

Many first-time managers, eager to make an impact, make decisions too quickly. Have a deliberate conversation with every manager that reports to you about this.  Make it clear that their decisions impact the organization.  Further, in one on one meetings, help them realize they need to take great care in making decisions and should routinely think through consequences and follow-on impacts. Equally, advise them that when they reach a decision or a dilemma that is too much for them to handle, that they should seek your help, or the assistance of other more experienced leaders.

9.  Expect A Strong Sense of Time

Great managers have a strong sense of time.  Not only can they manage their own time well, but they can also manage the time of others effectively. So what does this really mean in practice? It means scheduling activities in advance and starting and ending meetings on-time (both by planning ahead as well as respecting the time of others). Further, it means that the manager will give fair and reasonable time for tasks and assignments to be performed by employees. When it’s 4PM on Friday before a 3-day holiday weekend and a manager is telling an employee they want the report issued by 9AM Tuesday morning, what are they really saying? “Your plans with friends and family for the weekend are less important than this.”  If you see time management issues, or deadlines being missed, you may need coach the manager on how to better plan and prioritize the work within their team.

RELATED: 9 Time Management Tips For the Busy Boss

Coaching and managing other managers requires a different set of mentoring skills.  Your leadership and management structure, of course, is responsible for getting results through their own teams in pursuit of the overarching goals.   Recognize that having strong managers and leaders throughout your team helps the company run a more competitive business overall.  Thus, focusing the development plans of managers on the above skills will help the organization run more smooth in its entirety.


Looking for More? You Might Like…

14 Things That Only the BEST Managers Do

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