After three decades in leadership, Pfizer Director David Warren has never seen two people manage a team in exactly the same way. “I work with many managers who are as different from me as can be and we all get stuff done, we just each do it differently.”
That’s why, when mentoring a new manager through the challenges and pitfalls of that first year, he always starts by learning as much as he can about his protege. “Starting out in these partnerships, I’m all ears,” Warren says. “ I ask about their day-to-day function in the role, what kind of strengths they have, what challenges they’re facing.” After that, he begins to build a plan together with his protege.
New managers are expected to learn an entirely new kind of role on the job while taking on additional responsibilities. They have to figure out how to keep a team focused and motivated, all while juggling a more complex workload and learning how to communicate to more senior levels of leadership. It’s simply too much to expect anyone to pull off perfectly without guidance.
Through mentorship, Warren has been able to steward three Everwise proteges (and many others within his own organization) through smoother transitions. We asked him about the most common challenges for new managers, what he does to help his proteges find their management style, and how proteges can make the most out of their mentorship.
What was your experience with mentorship before Everwise?
I’ve been on both sides of the mentorship relationship, in programs within the company where I work as well as through informal mentoring relationships — influential teachers, coworkers early on in my career. It’s a kind of relationship I’ve been long accustomed to. But with Everwise there’s something extra because it connects two people who don’t have a prior relationship to one another. That’s a new thing to me and I find it pretty refreshing.
You said that you had influential teachers early on. How did they influence your career?
I would say their influence was more on helping me develop a fundamental set of skills. They helped me develop as a person. The people I worked with early in my career, who were senior to me, they came from very formal technology backgrounds, so they introduced me to a disciplined approach to working with technology. The really fundamental aspects of working in a dynamic technology environment and making it enterprise ready — those are skills you don’t walk into the business with, someone has to influence you.
What kinds of challenges do you see your proteges face most often?
One challenge that we’ve talked about a lot is asserting yourself as a leader when you’re either new to that role or you’re working across peers. Another is working as a member of the team while transitioning into a manager, trying to balance that workload as well as organize the work of the team and prioritize it all.
And what kind of progress did you see?
One of the more significant things that they worked through was their own awareness of the skills that they bring to the table, the capabilities they had coming into the role. Because they had some new kinds of challenges in the new role, right? As we talked through those challenges and talked through their own experiences and skillsets, I felt like one of the most important developments was that realization that they could use skills they already had on these challenges. That they could take the strengths that had gotten them this far and apply them to this new situation.
Do you notice a difference in how managers have to approach the role today as opposed to when you were first in a management role?
You need to be able to handle a more dynamic business environment today. There have always been a lot of demands because the corporate world can be a demanding place. But it’s more dynamic, changes faster than what I experienced some years ago. Whether you’re in technology or not, the way that you get information, how you buy and sell things, and how you conduct business relationships is changing more rapidly.
Do you find that the transition into management is a tough one for a lot of people?
I think that’s something that everybody deals with — the needs of people at a higher level of management are a little bit different from what you’re accustomed to. You have to adapt your communication style to get your point across with the next level of management. So it’s a continuous learning process that everyone goes through.
What advice would you give to someone who just started managing for the first time?
I hesitate to say anything because I don’t tend to believe in one-size-fits-all advice. I think you have to know a little bit about somebody’s situation before you can give them advice. But one thing I will always say goes back to using your strengths: You’re going to approach a managing role with your own unique combination of strengths and skills. At the same time, there are ways that you need to grow and skills that you have to build for the role, so it’s good to either work with peers at that level of management or do these kinds of mentoring relationships to understand what you need to work on.
Is there some nervousness or discomfort around becoming an authority figure?
Yes, I think that’s the development stuff that you just need to go through. I know there are some people for whom it comes naturally, but I think for a lot of people it’s a big change when you go from being somebody’s co-worker to being their manager. It’s just a different relationship.
I don’t tell proteges what to do, I talk them through what has worked for them so far and what hasn’t worked for them. And like I said before, the strengths they bring to the table will give them the confidence to take on that new role. That’s a big part of that initial hurdle when somebody is stepping into management: Realizing that you have that capability, that people are looking for you to speak up and take the lead on some things. You’ve already proven yourself, that’s what got you into this new role. Let your previous success build your confidence.
What advice would you give someone just starting out as a protege in their first mentorship?
Not everybody is proactive with a mentorship as they should be when they’re in the protege role. I find that the relationship’s progress moves a little bit more quickly when proteges give some real thought to what their challenges are, what they really want out of the relationship.
Any advice for first time mentors?
Be confident in your experience, because everyone has experience to share. I imagine that Everwise has mentors at all levels, in all industries, because there are so many people out there with good experience. I’ve been a manager for many years, but I’m not a C-level executive. You don’t have to be a CEO of a giant company to have experience worth sharing with people.