Your hard work has paid off and you’ve been promoted to management - it’s exciting and terrifying all at the same time.
On the one hand, you have clearly proven that you have the skills to move up the career ladder, and on the other hand, management is a completely new skill that will take time to master. It’s generally regarded as the hardest professional transition one makes over the course of their career - and even senior-level managers struggle at times.
Navigating the transition and mastering this new set of skills involves, in many ways, a change in the way you view your work and yourself as a professional. This transition from individual contributor to manager can take time and may challenge many of the things that helped get you promoted in the first. Some of the very things that contributed to your success before will stand in the way of your success as a manager.
To help you through this journey, here are seven ways your mindset needs to change as you embrace the role and excel as a manager.
Doing to Delegating
As an individual contributor, you were the expert who got work done and judging by your promotion to management, you were great at it. But as a manager, your role is to get work done through other people. Delegation is a critical skill to master as a manager. Not only do you need to delegate in order to get things done, but you also need to ensure that your team is assigned work that will help them develop their skills. Most new managers struggle with delegation at first because they haven’t let go of the mindset that helped them achieve success as an individual contributor.
Tip: Rewrite your to-do list. Focus on what only you can do as a manager--setting expectations, coaching your team, and following up. Select tasks to delegate to your team members in a manner that will ensure stuff gets done while developing the strengths of your individual team members. Remember, no one else on your team can do the work of management for you, and that’s the one thing you can’t delegate.
One Way to Many Ways
It can be frustrating at first to realize that your way isn’t the only way and that being a successful manager doesn’t mean always having the one right answer. Instead, a successful manager shows openness to different ideas and decisions and leaves the specifics of how to accomplish a task up to the individual contributors. A successful manager transitions from thinking there is one right answer, to being open to many right answers.
Tip: Focus on communicating the what of a project and defining the goal. Let them figure out how to accomplish the milestones along the way. Your team will be happier and you’ll be more successful.
Solving Problems to Anticipating Problems
As a manager, your participation in solving problems changes. Instead of the results hinging on your ability to perform and deliver, now results depend on your ability to help your team solve their problems. This means participating by anticipating potential problems, preventing roadblocks, and looking for ways to make it easier for your individual contributors to succeed.
Tip: As a manager, you attend higher-level meetings and become privy to information about customers, other teams, and changes in the business. Sharing as much as you can with your team about the things you have learned will help them prepare for what’s ahead.
Defined to Ambiguous
Before becoming a manager you had defined challenges that you could meet and deliver. These were usually oriented around tasks you could, and did, deliver on. Now that you are in management however, those defined challenges have become more ambiguous and messy. Whether you are dealing with people challenges, skills gaps, or tasks that are bigger and unprecedented, suddenly you are living in gray areas. Individual contributors look to managers to help with situations in which there is no single, clear outcome.
Tip: Make sure you remain open to being flexible and learning. Often, the answer you need is not one within you or your department and it may not be an easy one to solve. Find and use the resources available in HR, talk to other managers, find and meet regularly with a mentor, and be curious about how other people have solved similar problems in the past.
Friend to Friendly
We typically make friends at work, but managers have an extra responsibility to consider. As a manager, you must be free to make unpopular decisions while ensuring that your team respects your objectivity. You and your employees need clear boundaries between public and private, and whether you are at the office or out with the team after work, you are still a manager and your role still has authority over them. You can be friendly to your team but be cautious about developing too strong of a friendship.
Tip: Appreciate that there might be a sense of loss for you here, especially as you work with those who used to be your peers. As the manager, you are an agent of the organization and that is what you get paid to do. Develop friendships with other managers and make an effort to network with other professionals in your industry as a means of creating rewarding professional friendships.
Success for Self to Success for Others
An individual contributor has the reward of being an individual achiever as well. But as a manager, you achieve success through your team members rather than through your individual effort, and this means that your focus must shift to recognizing and celebrating the success of your team. Look for opportunities to catch someone doing something right, provide positive feedback, and support the strengths of your team. Ensure that you make promises your team can keep rather than overcommitting them.
Tip: Make delivering positive feedback an intentional and critical piece of your day every day. People respond best to all kinds of feedback when they get more positive than negative, which means that a regular and consistent approach of noticing what has gone right yields dividends and can make the moments when something has gone wrong easier to work through.
Agenda Doer to Agenda Setter
As an individual contributor, your role was to accomplish the tasks you were assigned. However, in your new role, you are responsible for setting the agenda instead of just focusing on select agenda items that relate to you. Managers need to rank priorities and determine how much time and attention needs to be allocated throughout the process in order to keep projects moving forward. Furthermore, they must do this while being sensitive and alert to the political climate within the organization. You must be smart about how and when to move things forward.
Tip: Keep the customer in mind. We all, ultimately, report to the customer and strategically aligning the work of your team with your customers’ needs brings clarity to your plan. Focus on prioritizing work and remember that you are no longer the expert doer - you simply don’t have enough time.
These mindset shifts won’t happen overnight, and they won’t happen all at once. It took you years of education, training, and practice to become a superstar individual contributor, and it will take time and practice to become a superstar manager. The path to get there isn’t linear and just when you think you have mastered one of these mindset shifts you are bound to run into something you did not expect. Know that while it may be a frustrating experience at times, it can also be highly rewarding. Embrace these new mindsets and watch your success as a manager grow!