Making the leap from individual contributor to first-time manager is a pivotal transition in a professional’s career. While training for technical skills can be straightforward, learning how to be an inspiring leader isn’t as simple.
It’s no longer enough to care about your own performance and development. The responsibility shifts to caring for that of the entire team. So what can one do to ensure a smooth transition? Here’s what our community had to say:
Build a personal board of advisors.
D Percy suggests seeking not only one mentor, but a whole group, “That is, a group of trusted individuals with different expertise in different areas that can be a source of active listening and idea generation.” Having a group of people you can turn to during challenging times will help you gain exposure to different perspectives, which are always helpful in understanding how to manage the situation at hand.
Keep in mind that others’ perspectives don’t automatically change when your title does.
Just because you assume a new role doesn’t mean that others will see you as a leader. David Baumann suggests you must work to build your reputation and credibility as a manager far before considering leading a team. “Using this approach, the individual gains subject matter knowledge and leadership experience, without everyone watching them ‘grow up’ into a new role, and without them feeling self-conscious for being watched.” Because changing first impressions is tough, stepping into your new role having already developed these essential skills will provide you with a good foundation for success.
Understand that being a top performer doesn’t equate to being a great leader.
To add to Baumann’s thoughts, David Annis reminds us that managerial roles use an entirely different set of strengths. It requires mastery of several soft skills, the skills we aren’t necessarily taught in certification courses or training. “As a leader or manager you don’t and actually shouldn’t be the most ‘technical’ in the details of the work that your staff performs. As a leader, you need to have completely different competencies – like knowing how to build teams, develop your staff, handle administrative issues, make presentations to executives, influence other departments, etc.”
In order to develop in these areas, he suggests seeking leadership opportunities well before becoming a manager. A couple of opportunities to practice these skills include taking charge on larger projects or tackling leadership positions in other social organizations.
Begin with the intention to do more than simply manage your team.
Michael Dabney highlights the key differences in managing and leading, “Although they share some similarities, they are not synonymous. A manager uses his or her skills and influence to make sure the team maintains desired progress towards the goals and expectations set by the higher ups in the organization. A leader looks to the future in helping to chart the future course of the organization, making sure its goals and expectations are realistic and that the company has the adequate team, vision, resources and strengths to meet them.”
Strive to go above and beyond what’s expected of your team. To do so effectively, dig into what it is that motivates each team member, individual goals, and use that to tailor their team experience and drive better performance.
As soon as you step into your new role, schedule time to openly discuss the changes with your team.
Especially when leading former peers, the change in relationship dynamics can cause a bit of anxiety. David DeGennaro shares that this apprehension is normal. In order to help address it, he suggests “gathering up those you supervise and thanking them for allowing you the opportunity to lead them. Tell them you’re excited at the chance and that you welcome their ideas.”
He also advises using this first conversation as an opportunity to communicate expectations. Clearly express what you would like to see from your team, ask about the support they’d like to see from you, and let them know that you appreciate their feedback. Next, establish a sense of camaraderie – share that you have the same goals and you’re in this together. “Let them you that you expect they provide you the support you require to do your job. Finally, be consistent with appropriate praise and discipline.” Timely feedback, both positive and constructive, can go a long way in keeping your team motivated and contributing to their growth.
In summary, as you transition into your new role:
- Seek out a group of mentors whose support you can enlist when you encounter unfamiliar and challenging situations.
- Take advantage of opportunities to lead whenever possible to develop the skills that’ll set you up for success.
- Establish clear expectations with your team early and open the door for frequent communication and feedback.