Perhaps you’ve heard the oft-quoted statistic: Four in 10 supervisors or managers fail in their first 18 months.

There’s a good reason the stat is frequently cited: It has held up over time. You may have observed a similar rate of failure among bosses during your own career.

To improve the success rate among the newly promoted, consider some insightful thinking from HR guru Glenn Shepard. He says the five biggest reasons new managers fail are:

1. They think they’re still one of the boys (or girls)
Authority changes relationships, and that includes business friendships. If managers try to remain “one of the boys/girls,” they’ll undercut their authority (and the company’s), confuse their employees, and find it difficult to lead.

When reviewing high performers for potential promotions, look for people who have the right temperament for the job. Managers must:

  • accept unpopularity when necessary
  • prefer respect to popularity, and
  • be willing to do what others won’t

New managers need to have their “game face” on all the time. Managers need to be prepared to execute strategy and withhold information (about things like layoffs or redeployments) until the company is ready to reveal it. Their loyalties lie with the company first and co-workers second, and some freshly minted managers may have a hard time adjusting to that fact.

Key: Make sure new managers are prepared to accept this social distance and this shift of loyalties. And be prepared for an adjustment period — most supervisors and managers need to “grow into” this part of the job. Checking in regularly can help people make the leap.

2. They lack confidence when making decisions
Employees want to be told the right thing to do. They expect people who’ve been elevated to a position of authority and credibility to demonstrate confidence. If workers see the manager is confident, they’ll have more confidence in carrying out his or her decisions.

Smart managers know that when it’s time to make a decision, waffling or hesitancy can be deadly.

Managers are often better off making a wrong decision early and adapting to the situation as required than waiting too long.

In fact, managers are usually better off making the wrong decision confidently than making the right decision in a hesitant or unconvincing way. (To be sure, a series of wrong managerial decisions can sap employee confidence, too, which is another reason to keep close tabs on the new manager or supervisor.)

3. They’re not prepared to hold people accountable
Good management and supervision depend on intervening at the right time with employees who’ve gone astray – no matter how you feel at the time or what you’re doing.

Holding people accountable and being firm goes with the territory. People who tend to defer to others, or who aren’t prepared to intervene, probably will struggle. Along these lines, some new managers think – erroneously – that they’ll run off good employees by being firm.

Keys: Consistency and fairness. Good employees will hardly ever mind tough performance standards, but they will always notice inconsistency and unfairness.

4. They’re perfectionists
The flip side of holding people accountable is having reasonable standards. But having high standards is not the same as perfectionism.

Highly skilled technical workers (such as engineers), for example, may have succeeded in their pre-managerial careers by relying on tunnel vision and obsessing over details. But these are disastrous qualities for a manager, who needs to take a broader view: Otherwise, employees can easily feel micromanaged or that the bar is set way too high.

Key: Work with new managers to help them set objectives that are reasonable for others to achieve. Watch them for any tendency to micromanage.

5. They avoid firing people who’ve earned the boot
The last stage of accountability involves termination: Some managers fear firing people. If the fear gets the best of them, they won’t be able to manage consistently and fairly.

Keys: It may sound like a cliche, but it still holds: The manager isn’t firing anyone; the worker fired him- or herself. Train managers to conduct periodic performance evaluations and follow progressive discipline policies so that the firing is never a surprise.

Source: “Seven Things Managers Must Get,” audioconference, Glenn Shepard Seminars,

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