Earning the opportunity to be a manager is a career milestone. It marks a big shift from employee to leader and is often part of a promotion.
You may have been working toward becoming a manager for a long time, anticipating the chance to share what you know with a less seasoned employee, show your own boss that you can assume more responsibility and spend your time on higher profile projects.
But becoming a manager for the first time — whether you are responsible for one person or a whole team — is a big change, and there are some things you might not have considered. Here’s what no one tells you about moving up the corporate ladder from employee to management.
1. You will have to make tough calls.
Sometimes, being a manager is hard. You may find yourself in situations where you’ll need to make difficult decisions — and they won’t always be popular. While it’s important to gather your team’s input, in the end, it’s your responsibility to decide what’s best — even if that means disappointing (or even angering) some of your direct reports. Many new managers fear upsetting others, but trying to please everyone is a recipe for leadership disaster. Be prepared to explain the reasoning behind any controversial choices and let your team know that you did hear them and considered their opinions.
Managers must navigate difficult conversations throughout their careers. We call these crucial conversations because the stakes are high, but mastering them doesn’t come easy. That’s why so many seemingly powerful high-level executives shy away from them. They try to avoid them or use subordinates to handle them. People who are skilled at crucial conversation know what they want from that conversation and stick to their goals. They also encourage others to share their ideas, even if they differ from their own. This exposure to more information ultimately results in better choices being made.
The ultimate crucial conversation would happen when you need to fire someone. It’s likely you will have exhausted numerous options and have support from your manager and HR department by the time things get to this point, but don’t underestimate the emotional toll this will take on you. Keep emotion out of the actual conversation, of course, but allow yourself time to work through any feelings you might have once it’s over.
- Your employee isn’t your friend.
Being a likable leader isn’t the same as being a friend. Ideally, you and your direct reports will establish mutual trust and respect for one another. If you have a complaint about your boss — or anything happening at work — your direct report is not the person to share that with. Always remain professional.
If your employees think that you are the kind of person who will trash-talk someone or the company you work for, they can only assume you are doing the same about them. You owe it to everyone on your team to be a trusted resource, not a pal.
Being professional doesn’t mean you need to be a robot. You will be spending a large portion of each day interacting with the people on your team. Get to know a bit about their lives outside of work. If one of your team members has running shoes under her desk, ask if she’s training for an event or where she likes to run after work. If someone takes time off to care for a family member, ask him how things are going when he returns to the office. The personal connection will make this relationship stronger.
These personal check-ins are even more important now that we are working in a remote or hybrid environment. When we aren’t seeing our colleagues face-to-face every day, it’s harder to really know how each other is doing since those visual clues are gone. That’s why managers need to build a trusted groundwork for honest conversations with their employees. Go into these conversations with an open mind and curiosity to get to know your employees’ stories. Here’s a list of open-ended questions, both work-related and personal, to get you started.
- The people you manage are a direct reflection on you.
As you move into your new role, your own manager’s eyes will be on you — and how well your direct reports perform can reflect your effectiveness as a leader.
The best leaders groom employees and help them grow. In addition to overseeing others’ work, you now have a hand in their career development. Take the time to learn about your team members’ short-term and longer-term goals. Explore ways in which you can help them reach those goals. Offer support that helps them develop new skills and elevates their performance. It takes more time than just downloading a to-do list, but you will end up with a more engaged, successful employee — which is a great reflection on you as a manager.
I’m working with an executive coaching client now (we’ll call her Kristen) who is feeling the C-suite’s eyes on her because of how her team is performing. We are working on delegation techniques so that she can give her employees more responsibility and autonomy. Kristen wants to make these leads more visible to upper management, which reflects the collaborative culture she’s working to create within her own department. She is spending time in one-on-one sessions with each team lead focusing on improving their performance in meetings around communication and delivery, as well as guiding them to have very clear conversations with their own employees. This extra effort will no doubt pay off for Kristen as her team leads excel under her leadership and her own boss notices her ability to grow and foster a high performing team.
- Managing people is time-consuming.
When you find out you will be managing a new team member, your first thought might be that you can take your to-do list and cut it in half. This might be true — a direct report will help with your workload. But you are still accountable for those tasks. And now you can’t just do them and check them off your list; you must take the time to explain them to someone new.
Additionally, as part of your new role, you probably have more work on your plate. Be prepared to put in some extra time as you get up to speed and initiate your new hire. There will be administrative duties as well, including timesheets, reviews and other HR requests that will require your attention. My client Kristen in the example above has come to realize that about 80% of her job is managing others now. This can be frustrating for some leaders who simply want to do their job and move on, as they may have done before the promotion.
But part of being a great manager is the ability to explain projects and tasks, not just dump a list on someone and walk away.
For all projects, remember that what seems obvious to you may not even occur to someone new to the team. Without being condescending, mention the things that helped you when you were responsible for a specific task — and understand that everyone has different work styles. Be clear in your expectations, including deadlines and standards. Knowing the six elements of an effective request is essential in avoiding breakdowns in communication.
Build time into your schedule every week to check in with your direct reports. Even a 15-minute face-to-face conversation can make you both more comfortable with this new relationship. This could change the way you schedule your day – perhaps you only allow a few hours a day for answering emails and other reactive work to leave time for more reflective work such as strategy, planning and developing employees.
- Your focus will shift.
While you may have been promoted to a manager level position because of your top performance and ability to get the work done, your responsibilities shift and increase at this higher role. Instead of continuing to do the daily tasks that you did so well that caught the attention of those who promoted you, you will now be overseeing and “conducting” the bigger picture. At this level, you will be expected to manage and create workflows, timelines, and budgets.
This shift from subject matter expert to a leadership role can involve many pitfalls. When you are a subject matter expert you may think you know it all and simply express your directives, whereas a cross-functional leader must listen first and act second. Their goal is to put company initiatives first, always be curious about other perspectives, and they are successful in working with others at all levels to meet expectations.
6. You may not be a natural leader — and that’s okay
Not everyone is a born leader, but you can learn, and your own manager thinks you have what it takes. Look at this new responsibility as a chance to push yourself. Do you need to work on communication skills? Time management? Here are some ways to cultivate strong leadership skills as you grow into your new role:
- Think back: Who was the best manager you ever had? Why? Use this reflection to help develop your own management style.
- Read: A few books about management that we love are:
- Ask for advice: Your boss, as well as other experienced leaders in your company and/or network, likely have insightful wisdom that they’d be more than willing to share with you.
- Consider working with a mentor or an executive coach to help you transition into a managerial role. If you have suggested this to your company but are facing resistance for budgetary or other reasons, consider our virtual leadership workshops as an another option. We also have tips on how to best convince your organization to invest in executive coaching.
Embrace the Opportunity
Enjoy becoming a manager — it’s a big career milestone. Being promoted to management is a great acknowledgment of the work you have done so far, and a reflection of your own manager’s belief in you as a leader. It’s not a complete 180-degree change from where you were, but your new leadership role will require more balance.
Being a manager is hard work, and understanding and respecting responsibility puts you in a great position to grow your own career and to help your employees enhance theirs.