4 Warning Signs That A New Manager Is Failing

Many of the people I speak with have either recently been promoted to management for the first time or have promoted someone to their first management role. 

They are aware that the coming months are not ‘a walk in the park’ and are looking for support.

The shift from valued contributor to a successful manager is a difficult road with potholes, detours, and drop-offs up ahead. In fact, it’s so challenging that research says 60% of new managers underperform or even fail in their first two years. 

As such, it is very important to pay attention to the possible warning signs when a first-time manager is struggling. 

Unlike common belief, the performance of the manager’s team is not the first to falter. Instead, look out for the following flashing “yellow lights” that will give a heads-up that something is not going well and that future problems are likely on the horizon.

1. The manager does not change mindset and is still all about “I”

First-time managers are nearly always promoted to that position because of their individual success in their previous positions. Now, however, their success will not be measured by what they themselves do. Rather, they are evaluated based on the success of their team. Thus, the new manager’s overriding focus needs to shift to the performance of their direct reports and getting this team to get their jobs done.

This is a significant shift in mindset which I see many new managers struggle with. It’s also something I struggled with for a long time when I took on my first management position.

Failing first-time managers do not change their mindset and remain focused on their individual performance. Signals to detect this may be that they refuse to take ownership for the performance of their people, distancing themselves from the team’s problems, challenges, and failures.

2. The manager does not demonstrate the basic management skills

As a first-time manager leading on the frontlines, there are several new skill sets a new manager needs to develop and demonstrate. These include:

  • Defining and assigning work to be done
  • Ensuring that the direct reports have the tools and time to do the work successfully
  • Following up and providing feedback and support (encouragement, recognition, gratitude) to motivate and engage the direct reports to get their work done
  • Problem-solving and removing obstacles that hinder the direct reports from getting their work done
  • Building relations across the company with other managers.

Effective managers spend most of their days on these basic management tasks and realize that it is their job to get their team to do their job well. Flailing managers spend little time on these skills. One particular area to pay attention to is if the first-time manager provides feedback and holds people accountable.

In addition, they will often interject themselves in the work of their team fixing their people’s mistakes rather than teaching them how to do their work correctly.

3. The manager is overusing power

The manager may be rarely available and not approachable. She may view questions from direct reports as interruptions from her “more important” work. Or he may over-rely on his title (and position), barking out orders and threats to get his team to do something.

4. The manager refuses to admit that he or she is drowning

Becoming a manager does not come naturally, especially for a star individual performer. All too often new managers have a hard time admitting that they are not succeeding. To get the team’s work done, they go beyond fixing people’s mistakes and begin to take on more and more of the team’s work themselves. 

They stop delegating and tell themselves that if you want something to be done right, then you need to do it yourself. And they do not ask anyone (boss, peer, trusted direct report) for help.


Avoiding potholes and developing successful and skilled first-time managers is an important responsibility for any organization. 

First, these new managers are on the front lines of the business where 90% of the daily battle takes place. 

Second, these first-time managers are the future senior leaders of the company. If they do not learn to be effective managers and leaders at this level, then they will likely never learn these skills with serious and debilitating consequences for their organizations.

Your Leadership Coach,

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