There is an age-old plight facing many new managers. It looks like this: Successful performance on the job ushers a high-potential employee into the ranks of management, yet the skills required for success before are not the skills required for success now. The manager struggles. Sometimes, the manager can adjust. Sometimes, the manager fails. In either scenario, direct reports suffer and productivity wanes.

Yet, for all these common stories, it remains a challenge for organizations to groom high-quality managers. The truth is that it is not easy, but it is simple. It starts with intention. With intention, organizations and high-potentials can ease the bumpy transition to management.

This smoother way requires organizations to ask and address key questions:

Is This a Learning Environment?

In learning environments, individuals are encouraged to focus on self-development and improvement. Eyes are on the path ahead, and organizations support employees on the way to getting there.

Is the Emphasis on Mentoring or Managing?

A mentor helps guide people to find the right approach. A manager directs employees on what to do and, often, how to do it. There is a time when each approach is necessary, but the more an organization can focus on mentoring, the more likely the business is to build skills like critical thinking, smart risk-taking, autonomy and creativity.

Are There Alternatives to Growth Other Than “Up or Out”?

Not every employee is on the path to management, yet if organizations do not provide alternative options for growth and development, good employees end up in management roles that are not fulfilling. The result is mediocre management, lost value, unhappy employees and eventual turnover.

As organizations map out how best to support managers, there is a role for aspiring managers as well. It, too, begins with intention:

Start Early.

Be intentional about learning what it takes to be a great manager and to cultivate those skills early. Identify experts and read, read, read. Find admirable internal managers, and ask questions about their style and beliefs. This is part learning, part mentoring and all good.

Determine Your Style.

Socrates’ sage advice to “know thyself” applies to aspiring managers. Long before taking on the role, build an objective self-view that includes motivating factors, strength and areas for development. Close friends and colleagues can help identify any blind spots. This self-awareness and healthy emotional intelligence will help create the path to being a successful manager.

Relationships Come First.

Before trying to manage, get to know the people. Building relationships starts with caring about the other person and demonstrating that care through listening, advocating and acting. Employees do not need to be managers to build relationships, and if done well, those relationships will serve managers well.


Mastering any new skill becomes easier with practice. While there is debate as to how much practice is required, we do know that practice breeds familiarity, and familiarity breeds comfort. In lieu of on-the-job practice as a manager, look for manager moments, whether that be leading a project or internal initiative or participating in a mentor program. Taking advantage of coaching offered within or outside an organization is another way to practice intention and build the manager muscle.


Throughout the management journey, whether before, during or after, reflect on today’s performance and on what comes next. That reflection will guide the next actions and lead to even deeper learning and growth.

This cycle of setting intention, reflecting and then setting intention again never fails. Here, it is the key to building successful managers. It works for whole organizations, teams and individuals.