New DDI study finds that managers don’t know what it takes to succeed—and weren’t ready for what the job threw at them.
Finding that first rung isn’t as easy as it seems, according to a recent study from Development Dimensions International (DDI). In fact, most new managers are in the dark about what it takes to be successful.
"Finding the First Rung—A study on the challenges facing today’s frontline leader," surveyed 1,130 supervisors and first-level managers to understand how they’re overcoming the challenges of their jobs and what is holding them back from being successful.
The major findings of the study include:
42 percent of new managers don’t understand what it takes to succeed
89 percent have at least one blind spot
Only 1 in 10 leaders were actually groomed for the job
Half took the role an increase in compensation—only 23 percent actually wanted to lead others
More than half of leaders learned through trial and error
So why were leaders so surprised by the job? Since trial and error on the job (57 percent) was the No. 1 most influential thing to achieving their leadership skills, it’s not surprising that these leaders were shocked once they were formally in the role.
And even if they’ve been in the role for a year or two, 30 percent of leaders still don’t understand what it takes to be successful—after six years, that number is still only 10 percent lower, with 1 in 5 leaders who don’t understand what it takes.
The result of this gap is leadership regret—1 out of 3 leaders surveyed regretted being promoted due to lack of preparation and or not knowing how to succeed.
Some of that distress can be attributed to how people got the job—11 percent of respondents said they became a leader because there was no one else for the job. These "accidental leaders" regretted the promotion the most, were less likely to have wanted the promotion to begin with, and were more likely to question their ability to lead others.
“Management by default isn’t an effective promotion strategy,” says Scott Erker, senior vice president of Selection Solutions for DDI. “Companies need to do due diligence to select leaders who have the desire, motivation—and skills—to be a leader or you’ve failed the individual and the organization.”
Thrown into the Deep End—and Not Liking It
For the half of leaders who found themselves learning from trial and error (when compared to those who learned through manager support), they felt less supported, that they were getting fewer good learning experiences, and were overall less satisfied with their development.
Managers learning through trial and error were 52 percent more likely to describe their first year on the job as stressful and twice as likely to describe it as overwhelming.
“While learning tension is good, the stress from having to navigate a complex role with little support takes a toll on morale and creates negative feeling from leaders,” Erker says.
In fact, when you compare leaders who learned through manager support to those who learned from trial and error, the number of leaders who said they were less interested in being a leader more than doubled (9 percent manager support to 20 percent trial and error).
Lack of management support when transitioning to the role also took a toll on self-esteem as those learning from trial and error were a great deal more likely to rate themselves as poor or fair (18 percent compared to 7 percent with manager support) and were twice as likely to say they were unprepared to take on the job (20 percent compared to 9 percent of those with manager support).
“What can we learn from this? The manager’s role—and ultimately the company’s responsibility—in helping a new leader impacts everything from their perception of leadership to their perception of themselves,” Erker says.
All the Wrong Reasons
When asked about the top two reasons for taking the promotion, half of front-line leaders surveyed took the role because it would lead to great compensation—the No. 1 reason for becoming a leader. What lagged behind? Broadening skills (39 percent), to advance their career (33 percent), making a greater contribution to the company (33 percent), and power and influence (21 percent). Surprisingly, wanting to lead others was almost at the bottom of the list of leaders with only 23 percent.
“Leading others is one of the biggest changes for those transitioning from an individual contributor to manager,” Erker says. “But it’s a central part of the job, so the low motivation to lead should be concerning to organizations.”
What’s the downside to the financial motivation? They were more likely to become disillusioned by the job—they are 57 percent more likely to regret the promotion than those who wanted to make a greater contribution.
Seeing (Blind) Spots
Can leaders see themselves clearly and identify their skill gaps? Even with the low confidence and regret reported, 87 percent of leaders rated themselves as good or excellent.
In separate data from 200 managers going through a front-line leader assessment, their self-ratings of their leadership skills were compared to their actual performance during the assessment. Nearly all of the managers (89 percent) rated themselves above their actual skill level on at least one leadership skill—and half rated themselves higher on at least three.
“These leaders clearly have blind spots about their own leadership skills—this is dangerous because they won’t seek development in these areas," Erker says. "Without insight into their development gaps, they’ll create problems for themselves and their teams throughout their leadership careers.”