First-Class Coach

I recently became a manager and I find myself caught between my senior managers, who want one thing, and my employees, who have completely conflicting demands.

by Miranda Kennett
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

 I am struggling to keep both sides happy. Is there a way that I can reconcile the two sides, or is it out of my hands to do anything about it?

A. Making the transition into management is often a rather painful experience. Yes, it's nice to have the recognition implied by the promotion, and the rise in status and pay is welcome. But having the title and feeling oneself really part of management are two different things.

What's painful is often that we feel closer emotionally to our former peer group, and we understand the pressures and problems of our vacated space well. At the same time, managers in the peer group to which we are the newest recruit may take their time to accept us. So the move from being one of us to one of them doesn't feel as good as we'd hoped.

Some of our preconceptions about the new role may also be challenged; for example, that it will bring us more autonomy. We may have a lot more responsibility, but we still have to fulfil the demands of our bosses, and now have the added burden of expectations from those we manage.

The positive part of the transition is that you are ideally placed to understand both sides, up and down, to see a way through. Ask yourself this question about both groups: What do these people really want? Consider your answers for staff and managers and look for a place where their wishes coincide - not the lowest common denominator, but the highest common factor.

Both are likely to want success, although their criteria for it may be different. For example, if your reports want higher pay and the managers want better performance, there may be a way of linking the two, so that bonuses are paid to those who perform particularly well.

When a client of mine took over the management of a sales department, she inherited a remuneration package in which bonuses made up a large proportion of the pay. For years, the business had flourished and bonuses were generous, then the market collapsed; her staff, who by now regarded the bonus as guaranteed, found their pay cut by half. Naturally, they looked to her to replace their lost income and were angry when she was unable to conjure more pay for them. She became stressed by the situation.

She believed in being an umbrella manager, sheltering her people from the worst that rained down on them. This meant carrying the burden herself, and she never mentioned the pressure she was under from above.

I encouraged her to open up to her team about the pressures. This had had a highly positive effect: her heads of department began to see that she was not responsible for the corporate policy they disliked and that she was working hard to reform it so in future they would not be hostages to fortune. This encouraged her team to share the burden and to become involved in explaining the situation to the rest of the department.

One advantage of your position is that you have access to the bigger picture, the external factors that are having an impact on the organisation's future, and, without betraying sensitive information, you can use your knowledge to enhance understanding among those who are more focused on day-to-day tasks and problems.

Another scenario that I often see played out is that morale is low and gripes abound about pay and conditions. But these are often the symptoms of the problem, not the cause. In fact, staff are disgruntled because they feel ignored and unacknowledged by management. If you're in this situation, you may be too junior to change directly the things they are complaining about, but you can start to address their sense of being unloved by finding occasions to praise them for the good work they do. After all, praise is free.

If you feel your people have a genuine grievance or a good idea for change, you can help them prepare a proposal to present up the line. Use your knowledge of how their bosses see things to make as strong a case as possible.

Promotion to management can put you in an uncomfortable place where you are pulled in different directions, but your present enlightenment gives you the chance to increase mutual understanding before you become inured to the needs of people lower down the food chain.

Miranda Kennett is an independent coach. If you have an issue you'd like her to cover, e-mail:

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