New manager has doubts about his abilities

Dear Joan:
I read your column in our local newspaper and always find it to be very informative and insightful. I am hoping your advice can open insightfulness into my experience. I recently accepted my first management role. I was very excited about this opportunity, since I decided to return back to school, after I was married and had children, to earn my bachelor's degree.
However, since I have been in my role, I find myself feeling doubtful and discouraged with myself. More often I feel I am being told by upper management to, "Step it up and be a manager," or "We took a chance to hire you."
I feel these comments overshadow my desire to succeed in this role and I feel doubt about my decision to accept the role. Without having solid training within the company (but have a lot of past experience), I feel I do my best to handle daily activities and issues.
I enjoy working with my team members and feel they are very good resources when I have questions about procedures. I have received positive feedback from the customer about my performance, as well as from other internal departments.
Do you have any advice for me and how I can deal with these comments? Or, what else could I be doing differently with my performance?
I have a guess about what may be happening but you are going to have to go get more direct feedback from your manager, before you can be sure about what he is trying to tell you. Unfortunately, his vague comments are hurting more than helping. He isn’t being specific about what he wants you to do differently.
I’m operating blind here but based on my experience, usually leaders say, “You need to step it up and be a manager,” because they don’t see one, or more, of the following things happening:
  • You are acting like one of the team, instead of the leader of the team. You aren’t making decisions and directing the group. You aren’t setting expectations. You mentioned that the “team are very good resources when I have questions about procedures,” so are you letting them lead you, versus the other way around?
  • You aren’t delegating…you are a doer, not a manager. You aren’t pushing work down to the team members, so that you have time to coach employees, make improvements to the system, collaborate with peers, etc.
  • You aren’t confronting employees about their behavior or their performance.
  • You aren’t assertively communicating with upper management. You are quiet and not putting forth your ideas and feedback about what you need and how you want to make improvements. 
If any of these things sound like you, be bold and go in to your manager’s office and ask for feedback in these areas. For example, “I’ve been thinking about what you said about ‘stepping up and being a manager.’ I’d like more specific examples of what you would like me to do differently. Obviously, I’m new at this and I want to be successful but I can’t if I don’t know what you’re referring to.”
If he needs prompting (which I suspect he does, since he has not been straightforward up to now), offer some examples from the above list. For instance, “Do you think I’m delegating appropriately?” “Do you think I’m directing the team and being decisive about changes I want to make?” “Do you think I’m holding them accountable?” These direct questions should force him to state exactly what he likes and doesn’t like. If he doesn’t know how to describe what he wants, these prompting questions should help him articulate it.
Another approach is to ask him, “What do you want me to do more of?” “What do you want me to do less of?” and “What should I keep doing the same?”
You said you have received good feedback from customers and other departments. What are they complimenting you about? Are they saying good things about your own performance, or about the way you are leading the team? That may give you some clues about what your boss is trying to tell you.
As he is making his observations, ask him for advice, so you can create an action plan together. Ideally, he would be willing to coach you in areas in which you need development.
At the end of the conversation, if he hasn’t given you any credit for the good things you are doing, stand up for yourself. Mention the good things others are saying to you—use direct quotes. Then ask, “Do you agree with their feedback?” This will encourage him to acknowledge what he thinks you are doing well (which your confidence needs right now). Who knows? Maybe he isn’t aware of the good things people are saying. It will end the conversation on a good note and keep you from feeling deflated and discouraged.

Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 573-1616,, or 
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