top of page

Management Development: First Time Manager

Updated: Apr 23

Management Development: First Time Manager - Featuring Eric Girard
Management Development: First Time Manager - Featuring Eric Girard

“I believe that bringing that human touch, the capacity to empathize and truly listen, is crucial. This ability to understand others' perspectives will be the key factor distinguishing between you and an automated system managing your team in the next three years.” Eric Girard

Eric Girard, author of the book Lead Like A Pro: The Essential Guide for New Managers, assists professionals in transitioning from high-performing individual contributors to effective people managers. Eric underscores the crucial role of empathy in effective management. Understanding and connecting with team members personally, listening actively, and showing genuine care contribute to building strong leadership. This conversation is a comprehensive exploration of the challenges and triumphs that first time managers face in their evolution to effective leadership. 

Stephen Matini: What led you to specialize in guiding managers through the transition process?

Eric Girard: I got into learning and development in my teens. It all started back in the Boy Scouts. I spent years teaching kids how to swim, paddle a canoe, or navigate a boat - anything related to water. 

I loved the moment when a kid mastered a skill, like controlling a canoe, and would go, "Whoa!" That's when I realized, "Hey, I enjoy teaching." Later, in college, I discovered the field of learning and development and joined the Association for Talent Development, which was known as the American Society for Training and Development at the time. 

So, I pursued a master's degree in intercultural training and began traveling. I taught English in Japan and lived in Australia for a couple of years. Upon returning from Australia, I decided it was time to find my true passion.

I ended up working for a cross-cultural consulting firm and was later recruited to Silicon Valley. That marked the beginning of my 20-year journey in Silicon Valley.

I transitioned from teaching new hires about the company during orientation to employee development, and eventually to management development. 

It was during this time that I realized, "Aha, these are my people. I enjoy this." Helping managers understand their new role, guiding them from being great individual contributors to becoming great people managers, and assisting them in learning a variety of essential skills was incredibly rewarding for me. 

SM: Because of your cross-cultural experience, is there something that you have noticed that is consistent in managers all over the world?

EG: Managers are people. Actually, this is a funny thing that came up in a class I was teaching. 

I was in Iowa, teaching a class at the headquarters of one of my biggest clients. It was the second day of a three-day class. This one manager, who had been quite active throughout, raised their hand and said, "I just want to say something. All managers need therapy." It was a bold statement. 

They explained, "Yeah, all managers need therapy because if you don't take care of your own stuff, then you're not going to be any good to your team." This person was emphasizing the importance of addressing personal issues so that managers can be fully present for their team. It made perfect sense to me. 

Just like everyone else, we all bring a certain amount of baggage into the workplace. I believe it's important to deal with that baggage. Whether you're a first-line manager or a CXO, self-awareness and addressing personal challenges are crucial for effective leadership. It's universal advice that I always highlight.

SM: How do you handle clients who have never undergone any form of managerial development until it's almost too late?

EG: My first suggestion is that there's always time to learn something new and improve your ability to lead teams. 

I often lead classes intended for new managers. Although the content is fundamental, people still attend, saying, "Hey, I've been a manager for 10 years and never received any training. I'm grateful to be here." 

I don't see it as a problem; rather, I view it as a cause for celebration because this person is finally filling in the gaps. They've likely figured out a lot on their own. I encounter this frequently - people managing for 3, 5, 10 years or more, attending their first or second management class. Let's fill in the gaps and maybe make some course corrections to enhance effectiveness and bring more empathy to their role. I would say it's never too late.

SM: Usually. Do you follow a specific learning path with new managers or you let them take the lead? How? Where do you start with them?

EG: In my book, I begin with empathy. The first chapter, and the longest one, delves into empathy. 

As a human leading other humans, it's crucial to be empathetic and capable of understanding others' perspectives. Not to the extent of becoming a therapist or counselor, but simply to listen attentively to what others are saying. I start with that foundation, and then we move on to making the transition. 

I address individuals who were excellent engineers, financial analysts, or whatever their previous role was, and are now leading teams of those individuals. We focus on the mental and psychological shift required for a leadership role.

After that transition, we cover topics such as goal setting, delegation, coaching, feedback, managing change, and building trust. The order of these topics may vary slightly, but when I wrote the book, I carefully considered how to organize the content as if designing a perfect course. The table of contents reflects this organization: starting with empathy, moving to the transition, and then addressing these other aspects in increasing levels of difficulty and importance.

SM: How do you help your clients navigate the delicate balance between active listening and setting boundaries to avoid becoming pressure cookers?

EG: I'll discuss setting boundaries, and I typically default to methods such as goal setting and SWOT analysis, as I've mentioned before. I suggest taking a clinical approach to assessing your team - identifying strengths and weaknesses. It's important to consult with workplace culture experts and HR professionals to cultivate a culture of excellence, openness, and trust within your team. 

I particularly appreciate Patrick Lencioni's work on the five dysfunctions of a team, which emphasizes building a baseline of trust to foster open communication without fear of backlash.

SM: Even within a non-SpeakUp or transparent culture, is it feasible for a team to cultivate a positive environment where communication flows freely?

EG: It happened to me when I was working my first job in Silicon Valley, at the company where I spent the longest time, nearly eight years. 

The culture within our team was exceptional. We had a learning and development team that excelled at addressing issues and discussing what was and wasn't working. We supported each other tremendously. This was the team I was part of when I was diagnosed with cancer. 

They rallied around me, bringing food, accompanying me to appointments - they were truly magnificent human beings. Despite the overall company culture perhaps not being the greatest, our team had an outstanding culture, and I remained very loyal to them for years.

SM: Navigating conversations where managers express frustration over upper management responsibilities can be delicate. How do you address their valid concerns while also reminding them of their own responsibilities in the matter?

EG: If you've got a culture where people are pointing fingers, that's a more fundamental issue than something you'll solve in a meeting. 

Building a culture of agency and self-advocacy is key, getting people to acknowledge that while the company may not be perfect, there are actions they can take to move things forward. This brings me to the change management content I teach, where we consider areas of control, no control, and influence.

Many of us waste energy on things beyond our control, such as the actions of the C-suite. Unless you have a strong relationship with them, influencing their decisions is unlikely. 

However, you can fully control your own attitude and self-talk. Focus on managing these aspects. Direct your energy towards areas where you have influence, such as your team dynamics. Building a positive culture within your team, one that you want to be a part of, is essential for moving forward.

SM: What is the primary issue that tends to frustrate managers the most?

EG: Most managers I talk to are extremely time poor. There simply isn't enough time in the day. As an individual contributor, you focus on your tasks, managing your list and project plans. However, as a manager, your focus shifts to achieving results through others. This means not only managing your own tasks but also ensuring your team is focused on theirs.

I help managers tackle two key challenges: delegation and time management. Learning to delegate effectively empowers team members to take ownership of tasks and report back on progress. One resource I often recommend is an article from Harvard Business Review titled "Who's Got the Monkey," which outlines different levels of autonomy between managers and their teams. It's essential reading for any manager.

Managing time is equally crucial. I use Steven Covey’s four quadrants urgency and importance matrix, based on Eisenhower's principles, to prioritize tasks. Finding a time management system that works for you is vital. Whether it's using tools like Asana, your calendar, or batch processing emails, consistency is key.

Balancing these tasks allows for impromptu meetings with team members while ensuring individual contributor responsibilities are met. It's a delicate balance, but with the right strategies, it's achievable.

SM: How do you address a manager who feels overwhelmed by tasks, claiming they don't have time for building relationships or meetings

EG: It's a shift in mindset, really. We're all busy, there's no denying that. But you have to recognize the long hours managers put in and the necessity of investing in your team. How can you delegate effectively if you don't know your team's skills, strengths, and weaknesses? 

Regular one-on-one meetings are crucial. Whether weekly for an hour or biweekly for 45 minutes, consistency is key. Treat this time as sacred, avoiding unnecessary rescheduling. By building these relationships, you empower your team. 

As Dan Pink highlights in his book "Drive," people are motivated by autonomy, mastery, and purpose. Understanding your team members' desires for autonomy, mastery, and purpose allows you to tailor their workload accordingly. This not only motivates them but also frees up your time for other tasks.

SM: How can individuals who are naturally task-oriented learn to improve their people skills, particularly in areas like empathy?

EG: You can learn to be empathetic, to listen. I strongly recommend Daniel Goleman's book, "Emotional Intelligence." It's fantastic for understanding emotional intelligence and how to develop it. 

Look for opportunities in your daily life to do something different. For instance, engage with someone who holds a different viewpoint on anything. Maybe not dive into politics immediately, but discussing diverse perspectives on work processes or problem-solving approaches can broaden your understanding. Start gradually; don't jump into the deep end. 

Personally, I'm taking steps to expand my empathy. In my area, there's a significant homeless population, so I keep bags of supplies in my car. When I encounter someone in need, instead of giving money, I offer these bags containing food, essential items, and resource contacts. But I've never sat down and had a meal with a homeless person. So, I'm actively seeking opportunities to engage with them, perhaps by visiting a local food pantry that offers various services.

Listeners don't have to take such big steps immediately. Start with small actions like engaging in conversations with people who hold different viewpoints or attending meetings outside your usual sphere. Gradually, these experiences will foster empathy and understanding.

SM: Do you ever experience fatigue from empathizing with so many people?

EG: It’s draining, very exhausting. I'm an extrovert; I love being around people, so I get recharged by social interactions like this, for example. It's fun to me. 

However, I also cherish my time at home with my kids, in front of the fire, reading a book, just relaxing. When I want to completely unwind and unplug, I'll read a book in front of our fire with the kids, or I'll go mountain biking or scuba diving to have some me time and recharge a bit.

SM: What sparked your particular interest in working with managers over executives or other professionals in your field?

EG: When I started in Silicon Valley, I noticed that the company I was with was growing very fast. I observed people being promoted quickly.

One day they were individual contributors, the next, they were leading the team, and they made an absolute mess of it. They didn't receive training or guidance; they were just told, "Now you're leading the team, good luck." It didn't go well. 

Then, it was my turn. I got promoted, but I didn't receive enough training right off the bat, and I knew I made a mess of it. I didn't follow any of my own advice; I just made a hash of it. So I walked away from that experience thinking, "Okay, never again."

SM: What did you mess up?

EG: I micromanaged. I didn't delegate. I gave very nitpicky feedback. It's embarrassing; it was cringey, the sort of things that I did. So, fast forward to when we decided to move out of Silicon Valley to the Seattle area, I thought, "You know what, I'm gonna start my own company, and that's gonna be my focus: helping new managers make that transition.

Transitioning into a managerial role isn't something you can achieve overnight, like flipping a switch. It's more of a psychological journey. 

While the title may change immediately—from being a senior specialist to a manager, for example—the actual process of transition takes time. This psychological adjustment could span weeks or even months. Having a support system can expedite this process. It's crucial to understand that people need time to navigate their own change curve.

Elizabeth Kübler-Ross developed a change curve, drawing from her work on the grief curve, which I've simplified into four stages: denial, resistance, exploration, and commitment. It's perfectly normal to experience resistance initially. You're letting go of your old role and embracing a new one, after all. However, it's essential not to remain stuck in this phase. 

Seeking support, whether from the employee assistance program, HR manager, or a trusted colleague, can help move you through the stages, from exploration to ultimately committing to your new role. The duration of this process varies from person to person—it could take days, weeks, or even months.

SM: What are the initial signs or shifts in mindset that you notice in someone who is beginning to grasp the essence of being a manager?

EG: If we circle back to the change curve and reflect on the behaviors exhibited during each stage, we can identify common sentiments. In the denial phase, individuals often assert, "This won't affect me; nothing will change," signaling their reluctance to acknowledge the impending transition. 

Moving into resistance, people might express, "I didn't sign up for this; this isn't what I expected," highlighting their opposition to the change. 

As they transition from resistance to exploration, their statements may shift towards recognizing potential benefits, such as, "I can see the benefit of ... this could be advantageous in certain ways.”

In this phase, a skilled coach can play a pivotal role in facilitating progress along the change curve. By posing insightful questions and possessing a deep understanding of change and grief, a coach can expedite the individual's journey, compressing the timeline from months to weeks.

SM: Out of all the topics we've covered in our conversation about being a manager, what would you pinpoint as the most important aspect for people to focus on?

EG: I would like to reiterate the importance of empathy, which I highlighted earlier. Especially considering the current circumstances, the world seems a bit chaotic right now. 

I believe that bringing that human touch, the capacity to empathize and truly listen, is crucial. This ability to understand others' perspectives will be the key factor distinguishing between you and an automated system managing your team in the next three years.

Check Eric Girard's book Lead Like A Pro: The Essential Guide for New Managers and use the affiliate links to support Pity Party Over at no additional cost to you.

🎧  Listen on your favorite platform: Listen to the episode on SpotifyApple PodcastsGoogle PodcastsAmazon MusicPodbean, or your favorite podcast platform. Subscribe to the podcast Pity Party Over.


bottom of page