It is something that many of us aspire to get to. Being promoted to management position. In most cultures, with a formal management role comes higher social status, more money, more “formal power” and it increases your self-worth. But as any superhero would tell you “with great power comes great responsibility”. Suddenly, your opportunity to impact lives of others has increased dramatically. Once you get yourself promoted to management you quickly discover (if you are lucky) that it wasn’t a promotion, but in fact, you got a completely new job that requires completely different mindset, skills, attitude, approach to relationships in the workplace and the view of the organization. You have just moved from a valuable individual contributor and expert to junior manager who needs to re-learn everything he knew about workplace and people. So how do you deal with this transition?
Mindset: You need to start caring about business
Changing the way of thinking from “I care mostly about my tasks and the impact decisions have on me personally and my ability to deliver my part,” to “I care about the company business and the impact my decisions have on my team, our ability to achieve the business goals, and the wider company environment” is a major shift. You are not “one of the guys” anymore. You not only represent the team, you also represent the company management towards the team. This is a rather difficult transition to make for most people. In individual contributor role it is too easy to keep complaining about management, other departments, or your co-workers, but this stops the moment you get the management title!
Once you are one of the managers you just can’t do that anymore. You need to build a feeling of one team, one company, one vision and prevent any “us and them” thoughts brewing in the team. You are also charged by the company to make decisions and to keep explaining decisions of higher ups to your team. “Sense making”, the ability to explain decisions done by others to your team so they make sense to them, is an integral part of your job. You should always fight for what you believe needs to happen with your boss, but towards the team you speak the company line. If you are not comfortable doing it, if you don’t buy into a company culture or mission, then you shouldn’t be in the company and definitely not in any management role.
Relationships: You need to focus on people
Until now you probably needed other people a bit to do your job, but starting in management you are totally dependent on other people around you. Communication with others has become a major part of your job. You are here to listen, explain, mentor, coach, provide a vision, set expectations, clarify questions, and to remove obstacles (which usually means talking to other groups not reporting to you). Every single aspect of your job means dealing with people. If that is not something you are enthusiastic about you shouldn’t be in this job. You can still maintain a friendly relationship with your team, in fact that is the best way to have a healthy culture, but you need to ensure that you also keep a healthy distance and be impartial. The worst thing that can happen is that you play favoritism. Even being suspect of preferring one person over others will hurt your credibility.
Attitude: You need to learn to make and own decisions
One of the key competences to learn is to be able and willing to make decisions and then own these decisions in front of the team. When you look around, you will be surprised how many managers are actually not able to make a decision and how even bigger number is not able to stand by a decision (their own or those made by higher up in the organization). This then leads to all sorts of problems within the team starting from complains about “we can’t decide anything” and ending with creating “us and them” culture. Ultimately it hurts everyone. You, for being seen as week, your bosses for being seen as controlling, and the team for feeling powerless. And it all starts with you not being clear and firm with your team. I love the 3F acronym (Fair, Firm, Focused). You need to be fair in your dealings with team members, listen and keep an open mind. You need to be focused and keep the team focused on the right things. And you need to be firm in your messages to the team and in your beliefs.
You also need to accept that you and your team are not the center of the universe and pick the battles you should fight with others. For example, it is understandable you want to grow your team and provide them with fancy training, but if there is another team who will have bigger impact on the good of the business if they get it first you should accept and even advocate that position. This part of the attitude comes from realization that your team are not only people reporting to you but that your first team are people at the same level or higher who work towards the same company goal. You can read more on these ideas in Is Your Team A Living Game Of Thrones?, or pick up one of the books of Patrick M. Lencioni.
Skills: You need to get back to school
All the things mentioned until now also mean that you need to work on a new skillset. Chances are that if you don’t give it the same effort to learn and constantly improve as if you were learning new technologies or techniques in your individual contributor role you will sooner or later plateau. You will stagnate in your own growth and what is more important you won’t be able to make your team better either. Unfortunately, the team’s potential is being dictated by its leader. If the leader has a low potential it puts a natural cap on what the team can accomplish. If the leader is constantly growing his abilities that naturally leads to growth in abilities of the team too.
So how do you ensure constant learning and growth?
- There are tons of management and leadership books, blogs, and articles out there that summarize current research in the field of management and experiences of others who went through what you are going through. But be careful. You can’t believe everything you read and you always need to digest new information with a skeptical mind and critical thinking. What works for one person in a specific situation may not work for you in your workplace, but just by gathering stories from others you expand your library of “what options do I have to deal with the situation at hand”
- On the job learning is probably the best way to get confident and comfortable in a management role. Relentlessly practicing, not shying away from difficult tasks and situations and constantly gathering feedback is how you really grow. For example, I remember the first time I had to fire someone. I was really nervous and couldn’t sleep the night before, but ultimately I was sort of looking forward to it since I understood that being able to make tough choices and have difficult conversations is part of the job. If I can’t do it, and do it well, I will very quickly reach limits of what opportunities I can get. And what is more if I don’t do it there will be negative impact on performance of my team.
- Getting a mentor is a must if you want to grow and don’t want to reinvent the wheel. Having someone more experienced to bounce ideas off, to discuss difficult situations you are facing and just get some live wisdom from is an incredible help. It can be your boss, but considering that you probably didn’t pick your boss, chances are he or she may not be the best mentor for you. You should reach out to people across the company or even outside who you see as role models and ask them for help. Before you do that you should identify what skill or behavior you want to work on and pick a mentor who can really bring value in that area. You should also understand that if the mentor decides to spend time with you he or she may also be looking for getting something out of it. It can be something as mundane as being able to practice mentoring, but keep it in mind when talking to those you see as potential mentors.
- Participating in a formal training is an obvious one. It is a good way how to get started especially at the onset of your career but keep in mind that most of the training courses in the corporate environment are not done in a way that ensures continuous learning. You participate on two or three days long training course and after getting back to the office you forget everything in two weeks. If you want to get formal training pay attention to what skills you will learn and how you will be able to immediately use them in action. If you can’t use them, it is a waste of time. Second thing to keep an eye on is whether there is a regular follow up after the training. This is critical to keep what you learned fresh in your mind and push you to implement it in your everyday life.
- Building a network of like-minded people from other departments or industries to share stories is a nice way to expand the toolset you have to deal with problems. I know that this can be a tricky proposition especially for introverted leaders but you shouldn’t underestimate its value. When I was working on my MBA one of the biggest values I got from the program was the opportunity to meet senior leaders from industries very different from IT. In many of the discussions we had in the class their view of the problem and solutions they came up with really helped me to expand my own, at that time very narrow, view of the management world.
- Going above and beyond is important if you want to excel at pretty much anything. Nothing can replace hard work, and effort you spend not just on doing your job but specifically on a very deliberate focus on getting better will definitely pay off.
So what does it all mean for you?
Moving into a management role is a rather dramatic change in your life and if it is not, then you are not doing it right! You should take it very seriously otherwise you will very quickly plateau and will be stuck in a junior management role forever or even worse may get promoted to even higher position by pure luck and then sit in a role that you can’t perform. So the first question you should ask yourself is “Why did I take the management job in the first place and am I willing what it takes to be successful?” If the answer is along the lines “I want to help others grow, I want to drive the business forward, and I’m ready and willing to learn,” you are on the right track and given the right effort you will be fine.
What was the most difficult thing you had to adjust to when moved to management role? Do you believe that being smart and hard-working is enough to become a great manager?
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