Testimonials

Becoming a Manager: An Interview on Career Development with Erin Lynn

By Adrienne SmithApril 25, 2017

Erin Lynn has worked in the regulatory compliance department of Allstate Dealer Services for most of her professional career. In that time, she’s grown from an entry level legislative analyst into, as Lynn says, “nearly every role that’s in my department.” That includes, most recently, moving into a managerial role.

Never one to stop or pause her career development, Lynn is currently focused on further developing her skills in three key ways. First, she’s going through an MBA program at Florida State University in order to continue progressing her career at Allstate. She also joined the Everwise mentorship program as a protege last year. Finally, she takes full advantage of Allstate’s learning and development courses — from understanding different approaches to management to honing her writing or decision making skills, Lynn never stops learning.

We sat down with Lynn to hear more about her career development story and get some tips on how others can approach career growth within their companies.

You’ve risen through the ranks at Allstate Dealer Services. How did you approach your career development there?

A lot of my career development came from working really hard in the roles I was in and making sure I was positioning myself appropriately. I knew I wanted to move up, so I talked to my manager about what I needed to accomplish to get where I wanted to go.

Most of these conversations with my manager were in our 1:1 meetings. Early on, I’d bring up where I wanted to grow. And my manager would advise me on what skills I needed to develop, so I would be ready to apply when a growth opportunity presented itself.

From there, I was able to strengthen certain skills and position myself accordingly. I worked on my organizational skills and becoming comfortable with more of our offered products and programs. I’d check back in with my manager regularly and share what I’m focusing on improving — doing that keeps the conversation fresh.

When opportunities became available, I was ready.

You joined the Everwise program last year, what has your mentorship experience been like?

Everwise has done so much and my mentor Robert is wonderful. I will sing his praises all day long.

When I first signed up, I chose time management / delegation and executive presence as my two main goals to focus on with my mentor. Robert has shared so many tips, strategies, books, and words of wisdom — all of which has helped me achieve those goals.

We also focus a lot on developing more presence in front of others. I can talk to him, say, about a presentation I have coming up. He’ll give me pointers on how to speak professionally and appropriately, little tips like ‘When you speak, make sure to give your words time to breathe’ that go such a long way.

I’ve learned a lot from Robert that I’ve been able to pass on to my team. And I’ve already seen the benefits with them. We just started a book club with a book he recommended — we’ll be working through Creating Magic: 10 Common Sense Leadership Strategies from a Life at Disney by Lee Cockerell together. He was an executive at Disney that started out as a poor farm boy from Oklahoma and worked his way up into senior leadership, and he shares his stories and advice. I’m excited to discuss the learnings with my team.

The Everwise site itself is an amazing resource too. I love seeing the community and the information that’s available through Everwise. Seeing all the questions [that proteges pose] and the response from mentors in the program — getting that outside perspective is so helpful. At work, sometimes you can work through situations that feel unique to you. But it’s probably something other people have come across. Getting advice and feedback from somebody who’s been through it before is so valuable to me.

What would you recommend someone look for in a mentor, if they don’t have one yet?

I’d suggest they find a mentor who has skills in the area they want to develop. That sounds so simple, but it’s the key to a successful relationship.

Through Everwise, for instance, you’re paired with mentors with experience in areas you want to build up. If you don’t have the benefit of using Everwise and having that matching system, you can still do it yourself. You’ll have to network and talk with people, which isn’t always the most comfortable thing to do. But you have to make those connections and find out what they’re good at, what you admire in them. From there, you can identify how they can help you develop certain skills.

In your time at Allstate, you’ve grown into a managerial role. Can you talk through the mentorship learnings you’ve applied to managing your team?

I’ve applied several of Robert’s suggestions around managing my team, including: keep a running to do list, be thoughtful in the way you delegate tasks to others, map out short- and long-term goals, and present information in an engaging manner.

Keeping a to-do list sounds simple, but it’s had the most impact for me as a manager. The act of taking a few minutes at the start of each day to write down what I need to accomplish is really helpful for me. My to-do list has helped me better organize my priorities, which in turn has helped me extend those priorities down through my team. We have so many different projects going on at any given time. Being on the same page with my team around our priorities all started with a to-do list.

Regarding being thoughtful in how you delegate tasks — delegation was one of the skills I most wanted to strengthen. When you move from being an individual contributor to a manager, you’re suddenly not responsible for doing all the things. Instead, you need to make sure everything gets done. That can be a hard transition.

Robert advised that I look at my task list and identify what I could give away to my team. Doing so helps me because I can’t do all the things any more as a manager. But it also helps my team. Delegating these tasks gives them the opportunity to work on new projects, to expand their role, and grow their responsibilities.

Robert also recommended I be thoughtful in the way I delegate. Instead of just assigning a project and deadline, I make sure my team has the knowledge and tools to best accomplish their task. And I make sure to check back in and be available for guidance.

What would you recommend to other new managers transitioning from an individual contributor role?

When you haven’t yet gone through the transition, people will tell you everything changes — your day to day, your approach to problems, everything. And you say ‘Yeah, ok sure.’ But then you go through the transition and you go ‘Wow, everything is different.’

Going from being the go-to person responsible for tasks to being a manager is a big adjustment. As an individual contributor, you have a certain pride in being the person your boss knows can handle any tasks. Then, all of a sudden, you’re the manager on the other side of that relationship. It requires a shift in the way you think about things. You need to be willing to let go and trust your people.

For anyone new to a managerial role, I’d suggest they find opportunities to develop their leadership skills. Those skills can be anything from leading a project, training class, or meeting to pitching your manager process changes. Your job isn’t done when you get that new role. Look for those opportunities to build up the skills you need to succeed.

What is the most rewarding part of being a manager? And what’s the most challenging part?

They’re actually connected! As far as a challenge to avoid: don’t assume your way of doing things is the best way. It’s so easy to fall into that trap, especially when you’ve been an individual contributor doing tasks a certain way and you believe your approach is the best. Don’t be afraid to let go and let your team do their own thing. When you grow into a manager role, your responsibility isn’t to do all the work. It’s to make sure the work is done. When you can, give your direct reports ownership over how they complete their work.

Giving that ownership to others is the most rewarding part of being a manager. I have two amazing direct reports. I know I can hand them anything and turn them loose, and they’ll complete a project in a way that never occurred to me — and in a way that was even better than anything  I could have thought of. For me, that’s the most rewarding part: being able to assign something to my team and seeing them run with it, to amazing results.

For people looking to grow with the help of a mentor, how would you recommend they best approach the new relationship?

Come to the relationship with an open mind. It can be scary to let go of preconceived notions and try something new. But it can also lead to revelations and better ways of doing things.

So if you come to a mentor and you’re closed off from their suggestions and observations, you’re less likely to learn from their wisdom and see the improvements you want. This advice also ties into having a conversation with your manager about your growth — be aware of the areas you want to develop and open to advice on how to develop them.

Also, identify a few specific goals early on. It can be hard to come up with those goals, but it’s worth it. Those goals will guide your journey and help you evaluate your progress.

That’s what’s so cool about Everwise. They ask you to identify and narrow down the skills you want to develop, and pair you with a mentor accordingly. I wanted to pick all of the skills! But if you pick too many, you can’t focus on any of them and you won’t get anything done.

What were you most surprised by with your mentoring experience?

I was surprised by how well Robert and I clicked from the beginning. It’s a scary thing to go into this mentorship relationship. My senior leadership had nominated me to participate and I didn’t know what to expect.

I knew Everwise had matched me with a mentor that had strengths in areas I wanted to work on. I’d never met him before in my life. I wouldn’t recognize him on the street. It was scary to go into the first conversation. But Robert was so warm and welcoming. The experience was so much better than I even dreamed it would be.

Adrienne Smith

Adrienne Smith

About the Author

Adrienne is a writer, editor, and content marketer from New York. She's passionate about creating equal opportunity in the workplace.

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