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First time managers: getting to know the unknown

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Having been in L&D for the last 20 years, I recently came up against possibly my biggest challenge to date.

I have a teenage son who will shortly be sitting his GCSE in maths and given my slightly dubious affinity with numbers as a result of my finance background, it was suggested that I could coach him.

So began one of the most stressful periods of parenting I have experienced to date!

Every time we talked about the merits of re-arranging equations, or the diameter of a circle, it felt like I was arguing that black was white. But on the flip side, there were probably times when I was trying to remember something I’d not used for over 30 years, and maybe my son was wise to question me.

This got me thinking of the real world of management and the challenge of getting managers to be true to themselves about their technical strengths and limitations.

Every organisation is different, and this is by no means an issue that applies just to first time managers. I have run programmes for many organisations where technical competence and technical confidence are misaligned. This creates some very real issues; at one end of the spectrum you have a manager very confidently offering incorrect advice and making ill-informed decisions. At the other end of the spectrum, you have the missed opportunity of a manager who is technically strong, but lacks the confidence to ensure their view is heard.

Going beyond the ‘blind spot’

Based on diagnostic tools we have employed recently, we have seen how the split between the two camps can vary for a number of reasons - whether cultural, by gender or by professional specialism.

For some of the organisations with whom we work, this variety of technical competence is probably more of an issue than it has been in the past. Profiles of employees moving into first time management roles have, in my experience, become far more diverse.

This presents some interesting challenges when it comes to designing development pathways that can target what needs to be addressed. We’re not all self-aware, and from a technical perspective whether we are talking finance, law or technology, we often don’t know what we don’t know!

In my experience, being able to give an individual that insight and analysis of blind-spots; as well as being able to provide an organisational heat-map of technical strength and weakness offers real value. It can inform a more strategic view of the learning and development priorities of your organisation, whether this is used to identify participants who will benefit most from development, in designing the content of a training programme, or just stopping your organisation from potentially being sued as a result of the actions of a rogue manager!

Food for thought, but then so are quadratic equations, and another maths tutorial beckons…

Dave Kingston is Head of Commercial Awareness within Kaplan Leadership and Professional Development. He has 20 years experience of delivering finance and commercial awareness programmes across all levels, and has led the development of a suite of commercial and financial diagnostic tools that assess technical competence and confidence.