Becoming a Manager: What No One Tells You
All About Us
We are a Chicago- and Atlanta-based coaching and consulting company passionate about facilitating individual, team and organizational change.
We apply cutting-edge, theoretical and practical coaching approaches to help individuals, teams and organizations bring about significant personal and professional transformation.
For many of us, earning the opportunity to manage another employee is a career goal. It’s a milestone that marks a big shift from employee to leader, and often, it’s 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 — 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.
You Will Have to Make Tough Calls
As a manager, you will have to make decisions, and they will not 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 upsetting some of your direct reports. Many new managers fear conflict, but it’s a natural part of life. 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 though any feelings you might have once it’s over.
Your Employee Isn’t Your Friend
Being liked is great, but it shouldn’t be your goal with this relationship. Ideally, you and your direct report will establish mutual trust and respect for one another. Depending on how your company is structured, you may both report up to the same manager. If you have a complaint about your boss — or anything happening at work — your direct report is not the person to share that with. Be professional.
If your employee thinks that you are the kind of person who will trash talk someone or the company you work for, he can only assume you are doing the same about him. 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 this person. Get to know a bit about his life outside of work. If he has running shoes under his desk, ask if he’s training for an event or where he likes to run after work. Ask about his weekend. Stay on neutral subjects, but try to get to know him and let him get to know you. The personal connection will make this relationship stronger.
The Person You Manage Is 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. Remember, you are being given a chance to lead. The best leaders groom employees and help them grow.
In addition to managing this individual’s tasks, you now have a hand in her career development. Take the time to get to know her, ask about her goals for year one and discuss how you can help her achieve them. 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.
Your new role is an opportunity to be the manager you always wanted for yourself.
Managing Other 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. When you think back about everything you learned about your job to get to this point, it didn’t happen overnight and you didn’t come in with intrinsic knowledge about how to get a project done.
Before your new report starts, take the time to create a list of the tasks he will be responsible for.
For large, ongoing projects, provide:
- A sentence about the project goal and deadline — and its importance to the company or department
- A timeline including steps and deadlines before the final deadline
- A list of who’s who in this project so your employee can see where he fits in — and where he will get credit for his work
- A list of where to get the information necessary to complete the project (whether you rely on sites you trust for online research or contacts within the company to ask for necessary information)
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 we all have different work styles. What was great for you might not end up working for your employee.
Build time into your schedule every week to check in with your direct report. Even a 15-minute face-to-face conversation can make you both more comfortable with this new relationship.
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 get better and grow into a great manager:
- Think back: Who was the best manager you ever had? Why?
- 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.
- Take preparation to a new level: When you are going to meet with your direct report, take extra time to prepare, remembering that you are the one leading the conversation. If you need to, annotate your copy of the meeting agenda with reminders to check with your employee and see if she has questions.
- Ask your supervisor for advice: Remember, you are still a managee, too. Your boss may have good tips for you, and appreciate that you respect his opinion and want to emulate his management style.
- Consider working with a career coach to help you transition into a managerial role.
Advice for Becoming a Manager
You have likely worked with great managers, and some that didn’t offer you support or the chance to grow — or were, frankly, kind of terrible.
Your new role is an opportunity to be the manager you always wanted for yourself. Here are five pieces of advice for new managers:
1. Don’t Take a Power Trip: Your new employee, whether she is a new hire or someone you used to work with as a peer, isn’t there for you to boss around. If your new report was once a peer, tread carefully. This is a delicate shift for both of you and there could be resentment on her end.
2. Do Share the Fun Work: Yes, part of the joy of having someone reporting to you is that you can unload some of the tasks that you don’t enjoy or that you are not best-suited to complete. But, make sure to find out what excites your new employee — find out what skills she wants to build and make sure to give her at least one project that she will find engaging and fun. An employee stuck doing grunt work all day isn’t going to be happy — or give you high marks as a boss.
3. Don’t Blame the New Guy: If a project gets off track or something goes wrong, your boss will ask why. Don’t jump to blame your direct report. Remember, his work is a direct reflection of your guidance. Second, it makes you look petty. Handle the situation and, if the problem really was related to a mistake on your team, talk with your employee to find out what went wrong. Ask first if there is something you could have done differently as a manager. This approach will start the conversation off with a positive tone.
4. Do Ask for Feedback: Your direct report is the best person to ask about your management style. Without compromising your authority — you are the boss — you can ask what is working and what isn’t. Some good questions to ask include:
- Do I explain projects clearly and give you what you need to accomplish them?
- Am I available when you need me?
- Are there projects I am working on that you would like to know more about or be involved with?
5. Don’t Micromanage: You might be eager to exert your new authority — or anxious to demonstrate how great you are at managing by showing how great your employee is at being managed — but avoid the temptation to micromanage. No one likes to feel that she isn’t trusted, which is often what happens when managers hover.
Set reasonable check-ins for projects and tasks, and be available, but respect boundaries and the fact that different people have different workflows. Just because you would be 70% of the way through with a six-week project two weeks in, that doesn’t mean that’s the only approach that will lead to success.
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 your employees’.