Most New Managers Are Clueless About What it Takes to be Successful

Here’s an interesting new study by DDI, reprinted with permission. When it comes to new leader development, it looks like most companies are still using the old “sink or swim” model, and a lot of new leaders are drowning.
It makes me realize what a great job we did at my last company preparing new supervisors and managers well before they were promoted, through formal programs, shadowing, mentoring, and assessments.
It’s not that hard to do, and it doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg. If you’re interested, please contact me. Or DDI. (-:


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

PITTSBURGH – 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% of new managers don’t understand what it takes to succeed

• 89% 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% actually wanted to lead others

• More than half of leaders learned through trial and error

Being Blind Sided

So why were leaders so surprised by the job? Since trial and error on the job (57%) was the number one 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% of leaders still don’t understand what it takes to be successful—after six years, that number is still only 10% 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% 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 more likely to question their ability to lead others.

“Management by default isn’t an effective promotion strategy,” Scott Erker, Senior Vice President of Selection Solutions for DDI said. “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% 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 said.

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% manager support to 20% 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% compared to 7% with manager support) and were twice as likely to say they were unprepared to take on the job (20% compared to 9% 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 said.

All the Wrong Reasons

When asked about the top two reasons for taking the promotion, half of frontline leaders surveyed took the role because it would lead to great compensation—the number one reason for becoming a leader. What lagged behind? Broadening skills (39%), to advance their career (33%), making a greater contribution to the company (33%), and power and influence (21%). Surprisingly, wanting to lead others was almost at the bottom of the list of leader’s with only 23%.

“Leading others is one of the biggest changes for those transitioning from an individual contributor to manager,” Erker said. “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% 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% of leaders rated themselves as good or excellent.

In separate data from 200 managers going through a frontline leader assessment, their self-ratings of their leadership skills were compared to their actual performance during the assessment. Nearly all of the managers (89%) 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. Without insight into their development gaps, they’ll create problems for themselves and their teams throughout their leadership careers,” Erker said.

About DDI
Founded in 1970, Development Dimensions International, a global talent management expert, works with organizations worldwide to apply best practices to hiring/promotion, leadership development, performance management and succession management. With 1,000 associates in 42 offices in 26 countries, the firm advises half of the Fortune 500. For more information about DDI visit