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 are capable of assuming 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 going 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.
At some point, you may also 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.
2. 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.
3. 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 be a reflection of 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.
4. 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 definitely help with your workload. But, you are still accountable for those tasks. And now you can’t just do them and check them off of your list; you have to 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.
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.
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.
5. 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.
6. You may not be a natural leader — and that’s OK.
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: “Leadership and Self-Deception” by The Arbinger Institute, “The Three Laws of Performance” by Steve Zaffron and Dave Logan, and “Maslow on Management” by Abraham H. Maslow.
- 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.
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.
Being a manager is hard work, and understanding and respecting the responsibility puts you in a great position to grow your own career and to help your employees enhance theirs.
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