Let's Talk: Becoming a New Manager

With Mark Hendy

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So you’ve got to that point in your career where your boss promotes you. (Hurray!)

The problem is, you feel a little out of your depth. Actually, make that *really* out of your depth.

Do you need to act differently when you walk in on Monday?
Do you change the way you talk to colleagues?

The good news is that it’s totally normal to feel this way. Management requires a different skill set, and we’re here to show you why and what those skills are.

In this Let’s Talk Interview, we speak with Mark Hendy who shares with us his take on how to rise to and beat the challenges you may face in your first management job - whether that’s in a new business or in your current company.

Mark and Aimee discuss the emotions you’ll face when you lead your new team, the concept of the accidental manager and why it’s important to keep grounded and remember why you were promoted in the first place.


    • Why you’re not the finished article (and why that’s ok)
    • How to overcome psychological barriers that change the way you act with your team
    • Why imposter syndrome is super common
    • Creating the right environment for your team.

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Aimee: Hi everyone. I'm Aimee Bateman, founder of Careercake. Today we're joined by the wonderful Mark Hendy who is the chair of the South Wales HR forum and also an HR nerd. You wanted me to say that?

Mark: Very happy to be described as a HR nerd.

Aimee: So lovely to have you here today.

Mark: Thank you very much.

Aimee: Thanks for joining us. So, we're going to talk about something that our viewers come to us a lot with this challenge. So, you know, it's the first decade of their career and they're doing a really, really good job. And then they get promoted and now they're a manager.

Mark: Wonderful and scary

Aimee: All at the same time. 

Aimee: I remember my first management job; I was 25, managing a team of people that were all older than me, more experienced than me, better than me; that's what I kept telling myself. So how do we deal with that? All of the challenges. We sometimes call them accidental managers. So, can we talk about that? What is an accidental manager?

Mark: I guess you get to that point within your career where you're recognised as being good at whatever job you were in prior to becoming a manager. I think what most businesses see when they promote someone is, they see their skill base in their previous role and there's lots of common misconceptions in the world that “Oh, you were good at that, therefore you must be good at this”. And it's a different skillset from being an expert or just being very good at job A to job B, which requires leadership skills and management skills. So, lots of businesses promote people based on an idea that they're very good at these things. It puts a lot of people in awkward positions because obviously, people want to be promoted, they want to progress their careers, they want to develop, [and] they are sometimes left in a position where they are in a job that they're not quite yet ready for …

Aimee: … and comfortable with.

Mark: Absolutely, and that doesn't mean that they are doomed to fail, by any stretch of the imagination, but it does mean that they need to recognise that they are starting from a place where they've still got a lot to learn.

Aimee: And they are going to be uncomfortable, so embrace that. Especially if you've just been made a manager, like you said, it's because you've been doing really well in your job. You’re used to being top dog - “Yeah, look at me doing really well”. Feeling, and quite rightly so, that you're pretty awesome. And then you go and do something that's completely out of your comfort zone, and that itself has an impact on somebody doesn’t it, that switch?

Mark: You go from up here, to down here, because you are excelling in your current role to learning something, if not completely new, quite new. Certainly, the new skill base is a different area of expertise. So, [from] something that you've become very comfortable in to being very uncomfortable in. It's a real change in skill base. I think if individuals recognise entirely that everyone has to start somewhere, that most people are not recruited into a job like that because they are deemed to be the finished article, but someone who has the skills to start, but is probably more of a blank canvas that could be moulded - that can be developed to be the type of person that they need in that position. If people recognise that, as well as recognise that everyone's going to fail at some things and that it's safe to do so in most environments.

Aimee: That’s key for so many things, isn't it?

Mark:  It is. People have got to feel comfortable knowing where their limitations are, so they can put plans in place to develop themselves. And not enough people do that and that's where people become unstuck. I think the people who will typically fail when they go into a leadership role for the first time are either those that don't really recognise their own limitations - I wouldn't use the word arrogance, but they overly assume that they're going to be great at it, that there's not going to be any issues. People like that typically fail because they haven't asked for help or they haven't recognised the areas that they need to develop or they've set themselves up to fail by not recognising that it's going to be difficult and that most people absolutely don't start off in a place where they're going to excel in that leadership role straightaway.

Aimee: What about you? What was your first management job like?

Mark:  My first management role was particularly difficult. I was particularly young. I think I was 23 when I first started. I’ve been doing HR forever. So, I was young when I went into my first HR leadership position and it was difficult because the business circumstances were difficult. I wasn't in a situation where I could overthink my role as a manager 

Aimee: and what do you mean by difficult?

Mark: It was just a business that was undergoing significant change.

Aimee: So the culture, people's moods, were a little bit …

Mark: Yes, it was quite unstable. There was a lot happening in the global economy at the time, so we had to pull people together. It was an all hands-on deck situation and that was it. I think I succeeded and have gone on from there because of the level of resilience I showed early on. Touch wood, things will probably never be that difficult again. I think what I learned from my very first management job was that I didn't have time to pretend to be an excellent manager. I absolutely needed to recognise that I was going to be okay at it. That, you know, I wasn't going to be perfect at everything, but I was going to learn and also just entirely recognise that those that were working for knew that I wasn't some sort of God - that I was going to come in and be amazing - was fallible like everyone else. That I wasn't the finished article and that they were going to help me learn as much as I was going to help them through leading them.

Aimee: A lot of people, …, like you for example, did you work with them before you became [their manager]?

Mark: I did, yeah.

Aimee: Okay, so it's the whole – you’re mates with them on the Friday, might even have been down the pub having beers with them, and then Monday comes, and I know a lot of our viewers, a lot of our audience come back and say “I'm a new manager. How on earth do I talk to them? Because they were my mates last week”. And they are still your mates, but how do you deal with the fact that you are their line manager now?

Mark: I think a lot of that is to do with psychological barriers. We have to recognise now that we're in a different position and therefore there is this different psychological barrier between a manager and a person who works for them. That does exist. There's no two ways about it. You know that person has elevated to another position with a different set of accountabilities and responsibilities, so they are in a different role. There is a difference.

Aimee: So firstly, accept that. When you're thinking, “oh no I haven't changed. I'm still me.” You are still you, but recognise ...

Mark: Recognise that that difference exists. But I also think it's about doing so in the context of what's changing. There's this misconception that you have to become this different person - manager Mark is different to non-manager Mark. Well, actually, I'm 99% the same person. I now have to do different things and act in a slightly different way. I think if you pretend to be someone else, then people will absolutely see through that and it makes the job more difficult. So, I think remaining authentic and staying who you are is really important, because actually, who you are is the reason why you've just been promoted, because they recognise the skills. I think you have to recognise that you're in a different position and that there is a barrier that's now being created or rather a change in dynamic. But also, don't take it too seriously. And don't forget who you are, because who you are is why you’ve got to where you've got to.

Aimee: Is there a real life example you could provide of what does change and what has to stay the same? So when you say authentic, does that mean that you can go to your team and say “I'm really stressed today at how to do this” which is what you might have done week ago when they were your peers?

Mark: I think it is difficult. I think there are absolutely some things now that it's probably best to confide in your line managers than those that report to you. They need to have confidence that you know what you're doing. You’ll get that leeway first of all when you’re first in that job because people recognise that as your first job. There is a level of changing who you would confide in about self-development at work and that sort of thing. I think you would go to your line manager instead of discussing that with the people who report to you. But having said that, they are people who will know where your areas of development are. They would have worked with you and now they work for you and they'll know where you need to develop and where you need to improve. So, it's not going to be a completely new concept to them that there are areas to develop. But some of the big issues that I've experienced certainly at one point in time, I was providing an HR management service to an engineering workshop. I remember one of the managers saying “You know, I used to go every Friday for drinks after work, I can't do that anymore. I'm not allowed to do that. Now I'm the manager, you know, just in case.” And I just remember saying, “Well why, why can't you?” You're still their friend it’s just that you're held to a different standard now. Things you may have turned a blind eye to before you; you can't anymore. But it doesn't mean that you've become this different person and that you need to exclude yourself and create these gaping big barriers. Just recognise that there's a slight barrier and that you need to manage that in the best way you can.

Aimee: So maybe go out for those drinks, but it depends on, I suppose, how big those drinks get – you end up clubbing at two in the morning - so are you going out for these drinks? Maybe, but if you know it's going to get a little bit cray, then you might just go home even if you want to stay and have loads of fun. Because you have to, I suppose, keep making sure that you create, or you have boundaries where you can still be there for them, but then know that if you need to have a difficult conversation, at any point that there's going to be a level of respect there. That respect is a two way thing.

Mark: Absolutely, they're going to hold you to a different standard as well as you holding yourself to that different standard. So, it does help to maintain a good level of professionalism. You can remain professional whilst still remaining friendly, relatable. These are people you may have something in common with and you can still talk to John every Thursday like you normally do, about what happened on the game on the weekend. You know that you haven't become a different person. It is about knowing when you want to ‘de-expose’ yourself from these situations.

Aimee: But still enjoy those wonderful relationships that you’ve built.

Mark: Definitely, yeah.

Aimee: What if you're going into a job, [in] a new organisation, you haven't worked with them before and you are becoming more senior to people that might have actually applied for that job or they might be older than you. This this something that a lot of our Careercake community ask about. They’re now in a position where they're managing people that are older than them. 90% of the time, if not more, these people don’t have an issue with that at all. But in your head, you think it's going to be an issue. What advice would you give to a new manager that's going in fresh?

Mark: I've been in that exact same situation. When you started your management career, as young as I was when I started, nearly everyone who reported to me was always older than me, and it was an issue early on, [but] only ever an issue to me. It was only ever something that, in my mind, I thought was going to be a problem. And you know what? It never ever was. It never resulted in anyone saying, yeah, but he's only 20 something. It just never actually turned into anything. So, the way I get past it now, there's no scientific method or anything is that, “Well it's never happened before so it's probably never going to happen at all”. I just think it's just recognising that, you know, it's an old fashioned concern that doesn't really happen in most modern workplaces. The world has moved on. When you're new to an organisation in a more senior role – it was interesting you asked about actually going into a role that people you're working with may have applied for and not being successful in. I get that that is a difficult situation and you are quite often on trial by the people who didn't get the job because they want to know why you've had it and they didn't. What have you got that they haven't? I think the only way that you can combat that, really, is to not change. It’s to act exactly the way you were going to act. Irrespective of that, that's a nuance that doesn't really need to be considered as a way of over emphasising or over egging the pudding in terms of how you're going to apply yourself and work with that person.

Aimee: Would you ever have a conversation with that person [about it]?

Mark: Only if it ever became an issue. Only if it was something that person had said, that person may approach the subject in a very professional way and say to you, “Look, you know, just to let you know, I applied for that job and I didn't get it. It's a bit raw with me at the moment” and you may say, “Well look, I appreciate you coming to me and discussing” And you just acknowledge it. “Thank you. Look. It's not going to be a problem. Look, it is me that was chosen, but what I can do is I can work with you to give you the skills to help you, if this opportunity comes up in future so that you'd be a stronger candidate.” That's one great way of dealing with that situation. But you also get the others who may not ever be fully on board because “You've just waltzed in here and had my job”, and all this sort of thing. And again, if that was a problem or it did manifest itself in a bigger problem, I would absolutely call it out. And I would speak to that person and say “Look, you know, I understand that it's an issue for you. It is what it is, and we now need to find a way of working together successfully”. That person may be really valued at what they do. I think it's about recognising that and saying “You're an integral member of my team, but this is an unfortunate situation. We need to get past that” and ask them “What can we do to move beyond this?”

Aimee: That’s great advice - Call it out. Don't hide from it and have that conversation. So, our viewers might be getting a new job as a manager and they might be feeling like a little bit of a fraudster. Like, “I don't know how I got here. Am I good enough for this?” Especially when you’re going through the day, where you're being challenged and you feel like you're a bit of a failure, you go to bed at night, and you know deep down that that's part of the growth process. That's how you get better at stuff. But it's still feeling like they going to find out are and they are going to tell me that they made a mistake. So, talk about that.

Mark: We used to call it self-doubt. That’s all it used to be - I'm suffering with a bit of self-doubt or crisis of confidence and all this sort of thing. These days it’s more recognised or, or more defined by people generally as something called imposter syndrome. Imposter syndrome is where people do feel like a fraud at work. They feel that they are absolutely going to be found out at some point in time because they don't really believe, or they don't feel that they should be in the position that they're in, that they're very fortunate to be there and that there's someone else who's more qualified to do the job. That feeling of imposter syndrome is quite often baseless or it’s just human nature to feel that way. 

Aimee: Is it human nature for everyone or is it just certain types of people?

Mark: Most people, I would say. Imposter syndrome, generally, is talked about a lot at the moment. It's very popular as a term at the moment because now people have a term to refer to. So politicians are speaking a lot about imposter syndrome. Sports people are talking a lot. Celebrities and business people - imposter syndrome is very popular. In its early days, studies into imposter syndrome showed that it was more prevalent in women than men, but in more recent studies it's becoming that men and women both suffer with imposter syndrome. But in the early studies it was identified more as something that affected females.

Aimee: I’d heard that and certainly back in my career when it started 15 years ago that if you ever wanted to talk about some of this, it was always female facilitators. It was something that, you know, and it's like absolutely not [just women].

Mark: No, not anymore. No. I suffer with imposter syndrome frequently. (Aimee: That was going to be my next question). Yeah, I do. (Aimee: Cos you’re awesome) (Mark: Thank you very much) (Aimee: And you feel like that at times?)

Mark: In the car on the way here this morning - “Why am I being interviewed?” I think the way in which I overcome imposter syndrome, when I do get it, is, I've been asked to do this because of something; because of other things that I do or other things that I've said or my professional credentials or whatever it may be. I think it is just a way of dealing with impostor syndrome is recognising why you're in that position in the first place. So, if someone is suffering with imposter syndrome, when they are first appointed into a new role, it's worth than just recognising that someone saw something in them to give them that new job

Aimee: You didn’t win a raffle.

Mark: No, exactly. You've earned that opportunity to get there. And because you've earned that opportunity to get there, then you are not an imposter. I think the next thing is just recognising, that the people who chose me to be here also know that I'm not the finished article and they'll know that there are areas for me to develop. So when imposter syndrome is constant or when it affects people to the extent that they're constantly thinking about it, what I would try and do is look at the root cause I would absolutely try and drill into the particular issue, that I think I'm an imposter because - so I guess it might be -  I'm feeling this way every time I need to do this or I feel this way every time I'm invited to a meeting or I feel this way every time I need to go on a course or something like that. Because if you can do that, it's kind of like diagnosing the cause. If I'm feeling this way, when that happens, why is that? And sometimes it's worth recognising in a one to one with a manager or in a performance review saying “I keep having this. Why do you think that is? Is that something you recognise in me? Is there a way in which we can try and overcome that?” and sometimes it's absolutely a conversation that someone can have with their manager, where they've got that relationship to have it with them.

Aimee: I'm going to press you on that, and I totally agree with you, but I know that I've had this in the past. I know some people would say that “They've just promoted me. So, they're the last person that I want to think that I can't do that.” What would you say [to that]?

Mark: I would say they probably haven't promoted you thinking that you're the finished article. They've promoted you knowing that you have a core set of skills and you have a range of different expertise and you bring something to the party that no one else that they interviewed, brought to the party. They have faith and they have confidence in you. That doesn't mean they think you're the finished article.

Aimee: No one is.

Mark: Exactly. So I think going to them to say, “Look, I'm doing well in these areas. My team morale is great.  I've got people doing exactly what they need to do. This resulted in this, but I've got this niggling doubt and I need to do something about this or I keep thinking about this. Is there a better way that I can approach it?” And I think managers more often than not, certainly the ones I speak to, when they are dealing with ultimate failure, which is, you know, someone who is really underperforming in their job, more often than not, the manager will say to me, “If only they'd come to me and asked for help”.

Aimee: I would have loved that. Yeah, I would have loved it if they'd come and asked. That's the attitude that you're looking for, isn't it? That person that wants to be a sponge, wants to learn, wants to progress.

Mark: But people often either don't do it or they do it too late. And I think if there is a learning need, it's absolutely worth exploring that with the line manager because, just because you're recognising one learning need, doesn't mean you're very poor at everything else.

Aimee: As a new manager, how important is it, and are you able to spot imposter syndrome in your team and the people that you're leading?

Mark: It is very difficult to spot imposter syndrome in others because imposter syndrome is, is a way that someone feels. And it's very easy to hide. You just bury it deep down and focus on other things and just do stuff.

Aimee: And that's why you’re so surprised isn’t it? When people like you … I know there was a CEO of an amazing organisation that I was lucky enough to be asked to go to the AGM, and the CEO, employs 3000 people and she has one opportunity to talk to people. But she used her 30 minutes to talk about the fact that she's crippled by imposter syndrome.

Mark: I think it's very difficult to spot, but a great way of coming at it from a different angle is by, as a manager, making that environment at work a place where people can feel as if they can come forward to you. So, if you can't identify it in others or if you have a feeling that someone may be feeling that way, but you can't quite pin anything on it, one of the best things a manager can do, not just for imposter syndrome, but anyway, to create maximum productivity in their team, is just by making that environment a safe and healthy place for them to work, and to work on that relationship with the people who work with them, for them, where they can make their team members feel able to come and speak to them about anything. And if you've built up that level of trust, if you've built up that level of respect, then when people have those conversations with you, imposter syndrome may be one of those subjects that they talk about. I think that's a really healthy way of forging good working relationships with the people around you. I think gone are the days where people would just see managers as god-like figures and people see employees as machines that don't have emotions, in most businesses. I think people connect now on a much more human level and humans absolutely have areas where they need to develop and need reassurance and need to feel valued and need to feel like they've got a place to work where they can talk about stuff that they need to talk about that.

Aimee: Absolutely. So, you talked a little bit there about trust. How important is trust and building trust? How'd you do that with your new team?

Mark: It's really, really important because if you can't build trust with your team, then they're not going to come to you and they're not going to give you their best selves basically. And you're not going to be able to perform in your role as best you can if your team are distrusting of you. But there's a big difference between being distrusted and being trusted. The best way of building trust with your team is genuinely by being a trustworthy individual, it’s by following up on your actions. It's by listening to people. It is about listening to any concerns that they have and trying to support them and help them with it.

Aimee: So, if you say you're going to do something, do it. Don't over promise when you might not have the authority to approve certain things.

Mark: It's about recognising that people in your teams will need help, will need assistance and that you're there to support them. You're not there to catch them out doing something wrong because some times, a distrusting individual will think that the reason something's being done is because “They're trying to catch me out”. I'm here to help you and support you because working together, we're going to give this organisation the best chance of success at whatever the organisation does.

Aimee: What part does vulnerability play in that? I suppose you're saying that it's difficult to spot imposter syndrome in the people that work with you. So foster an environment where they feel they can talk to you if they're struggling and be vulnerable. I suppose you really need to trust somebody, your manager, in order to go to them and say, “I'm struggling or I'm feeling like I'm not the best person for this. Are you sure I should be doing, you know, all of that stuff?” So how important is it for you to show your own vulnerability with your team and what, what would that balance even look like?

Mark: I think that's a very personal scale. I would say for individuals. Is it important to show your vulnerability? Probably, in the right context, at the right time. Maybe not for everyone. I think what's really key is just making sure that people recognise that I'm human, you're human and together we are trying to do something as humans. I know that sounds pink and fluffy, but ultimately, people need to relate to you. They may relate to you because you're just as vulnerable as they are. They may relate to you because you just as confident as they are. There may be a number of different ways. I think some of the best managers that I've worked for have been people that I've related to and they've known how to work with me, and I've known how to work with them. If you can build that relationship, demonstrating where you may have come across similar situations to what they've experienced before, that you may have felt the way that they feel right now, maybe you still feel that way, then you’re creating that relationship by demonstrating that actually we've got stuff in common and it's easier to manage people who are able to relate. They don't need necessarily need to have things in common with you. The worst thing in the world that you want, as a manager, is to have a team of people that are all identical. You will lack and lose diversity of thought, but you want to be able to have a good solid working relationship with them and there is going to be common ground there and vulnerability can be one of those areas of common ground.

Aimee: If you could give 23 year old Mark Hendy, that just got his first management job in an environment that wasn't that cushty, what advice would you give yourself?

Mark: Don't buy that car that I bought when I was 23! I would probably give myself the advice of not taking myself so seriously. I think I fell into the trap in my first management role of thinking I needed to be someone else and thinking that I couldn't have a laugh and a joke anymore. And I became quite miserable, really. And I thought this isn't me anymore. So, I very quickly reverted back to previous Mark. But I took on board the management skills that I knew I needed to be effective in that job. So, I think it's just absolutely don't take yourself too seriously. Don't think you have to be a different person. Recognise your strengths. Recognise the weaknesses and the areas for development. Do something about it. And that's probably about it.

Aimee: And don't buy that car!

Mark: That Polo was a mistake.

Aimee: Thank you so much for sharing in such an authentic way.