Transitioning from being an Individual Contributor (IC) to a Manager is one of the most difficult shifts any person may make in their career. This represents a recognition of growth as well as a drastic change in responsibilities. Like becoming a parent it’s something that none of us are ready for until it happens, but somehow, many of us will succeed. The difference in success depends on how much effort and focus you give your new role as well as the support and tolerance you give yourself.
There are countless books written on this transition, I’ll refer to them at the bottom of this post. I do recommend you read them, but read them to gather up your arsenal of tools, don’t adopt any management style that feels unnatural to you.
Take this seriously
You’ve been successful in your career up to this point because of your passion and excitement for your role and responsibilities. Take this as seriously as you would any other exciting challenge in your career, read books, watch videos, find podcasts, and articles. Ramp up your skills with as much gusto and intensity as you would anything else.
Give yourself time
You’re probably transitioning through a “Player-Coach” role in which you’re splitting your time between doing your IC role work and your Management role work. Managers and Makers hold very, very different schedules. If you find 30 min open on a manager’s calendar it’s up for grabs, if you schedule a 30 min meeting on a maker’s calendar you’ll be disrupting them for two hours on either side of that “quick meeting,” as they transition in and out of their focused state. You are in no different of a situation, except you embody both roles and manage both calendars. Make sure you block off big swaths of time in your day to get your creative focus work done. Protect that time with your life! Schedule that time when you are most creative, according to your own energy clock. Don’t just shove those hours in at the end of a long day when you’re tired and drained from countless other distractions.
Management time is work
One of the most common things I hear from new managers is that they have been “stuck” in 1:1s, strategy, and management meetings all day and haven’t had a chance to get any “real work” done. It is important to make sure you block time for IC work, but Management time is work. Being a manager is your opportunity to apply a force-multiplier to your work. If you teach 5 people how to do something you’re great at you will be rewarded by 5x more output. This management time will slowly increase over time until it is all you do, but it is valuable. Not only because that is what I need to tell myself because I have been a manager for 15+ years, but because that is how you scale and grow your team and effectiveness beyond yourself. Great ICs transition from learning, to supporting, to leading, and ultimately to teaching roles. As a new manager you are moving from the first two, to the later two.
Be direct, trustworthy, and compassionate
You are now responsible for the effectiveness of your team, equally you are responsible for the growth and professional development of the people you manage. When you hire great people, truly care about their growth, and support them to be successful, then you and your team will be successful. This must come from a place of compassion and empathy. Be trustworthy in your interactions, operate as if every person you interact with will hear about every other conversation and email. The only way to build trust is to be consistently good over a long period of time. Mistakes will happen, accept them when they are yours, protect your team when they are not, and provide support to anybody who needs it. Be transparent, but understand who needs to know what. As a manager it is your responsibility to shield your team from some of the operational things you need to deal with so they can focus on the thing they need to work on, your instinct may be to share nothing or everything, neither of these things are correct. Help your team grow; this requires you to be direct and give feedback to your team. Sometimes that feedback will be difficult to deliver, but withholding it is unkind and will put you in a position of having to let somebody go who could have developed into a great employee. Radical Candor has a lot to say about this I highly recommend that book for all managers.
Find a mentor, or three
You don’t have to do this alone. Finding somebody who you can learn from is a powerful way to grow. Being able to emulate others or ask questions as you navigate difficult situations can help you avoid missteps that can cause you to lose trust. Having a close mentor and friend is hugely valuable, but also having a mentor who doesn’t even know you exist can be helpful. Bill Gates doesn’t know it, but he’s one of my mentors, hi Bill! Having a mentor doesn’t mean you need to emulate every aspect of that person, you can use them as a reflection of the things you want to do and, in certain circumstances, as a cautionary tale, both are valuable.
You are embarking on a new phase of your career, one that I have found to be one of the most rewarding professional things I’ve done. Seeing your team grow and succeed and knowing that you have had some small part of that is an exceptional feeling. Everyone will make mistakes, but taking your time, learning from those missteps to grow your own abilities as well as your team’s will help you grow as an employee and as a person. Take this responsibility seriously and dedicate real time to helping yourself grow and you’ll be successful.
Some books I’ve enjoyed
If you’re looking for a set of books to read these are my recommendations, roughly in this order.
The First 90 Days - This book is great for any career transition, but is really helpful for big ones like becoming a manager. This is a good one to start with because it will help you in your first days in your new role.
Radical Candor - Having difficult conversations and understanding the needs of your team is important as a manager, this is one of the best books I’ve read to help navigate those conversations and gives a great mental model for running a great team with compassion.
Drive - Drive helps you understand the incentives of your team. The book is good, but a bit redundant, you can get much of that from the Ted Talk on Drive
The One Minute Manager Meets the Monkey - New managers frequently struggle to properly delegate and understand how to manage next steps.
Photo Credit: Suzanne D. Williams