Study after study reveals the sad fact that at least half of new managers fail in their role within two years of their promotion to management. The main reason they gave – nearly 60 percent of the time – was that they were unprepared for their new roles because they received no management training at all, while 87 percent wished they had received more training. So if you're looking into different management training methods, you're empowering your managers to be successful. Two types of management training are coaching and understudy training for management roles.

Understanding Understudy Training

Like the understudy for a major role in a play, understudy training for management roles involves learning everything the manager does to be able to step into the role and take it over. The difference is that in management training, the understudy isn't on call in case the manager gets the flu; the understudy will definitely be stepping into the role. Therefore, learning to do it well is paramount.

Ideally, the understudy will be given the opportunity to both observe the manager in the job and be given assignments to practice some of what the manager does. Understudy training works best if the manager and understudy communicate well and often, discussing the task ahead and decisions to be made, watching or participating as an on-the-job training process, and reviewing the outcomes.

For example, after observing her manager in meetings where managerial decisions were made, the seasoned manager might assign the understudy to prepare for an upcoming meeting where she will support the manager by giving a presentation about upcoming tasks. She will plan her presentation, review it with her manager and make any changes he suggests. After giving the presentation during the meeting, she'll discuss with her manager where she believes she did well and what she could have done better. Then the manager will give his critique and advice, and they'll discuss the next steps and a new assignment.

Examining Advantages/Disadvantages of Understudy Training

There are both advantages and disadvantages of understudy training, mostly having to do with how it is handled.

Advantages of understudy training:

  • People learn best through hands-on activities, and understudy training is designed to put the understudy in real situations with the manager to see the consequences first-hand.
  • Understudy training is still a protected environment, where the manager is there to guide the understudy every step of the way.
  • Unlike training courses or workshops, the manager can see how the trainee is progressing and spend more time where it's needed.

Disadvantages of understudy training:

  • Must be understudying an effective manager with good management skills.
  • Time-consuming; the manager must put continuous effort into the training.
  • The manager must cover all aspects of the role.
  • If trainee still has a current job while training for management, he has to juggle both and still maintain proficiency in current role.

Coaching and Being Coached

When you think of the coaches you had through the years, or those you've observed leading major sports teams, the best at motivating their players aren't the ones making headlines by throwing chairs or getting in a player's face. It's the coaches who teach, guide, encourage and impart wisdom, who tell their players, "You can do this, and I'll show you how" instead of, "You'd better do this or else."

A new manager learns what he is taught by a seasoned manager, or how he sees his manager behaving. Leading by example doesn't mean showing a new manager how to keep her direct reports in line; it means being an encouraging coach who guides her employees to do great things because that's the type of management they have seen. New managers who are coached with encouragement, rather than criticism, turn out to be managers who coach their teams with encouragement and wise counsel instead of a punitive, authoritarian style.

Comparing Advantages/Disadvantages of Coaching Style

Like any type of management training, coaching has advantages and disadvantages. Advantages of the coaching style of management training include:

  • Provides useful advice instead of criticism.
  • Motivates with feedback that helps manager improve.
  • Shows new managers a positive style they can adopt with their teams.

Disadvantages of coaching style of management training include:

  • New managers must have trainers who provide positive but practical examples. 
  • Being positive isn't enough; valuable coaching requires a thoughtful plan for continuous training.