Here you are, thinking to step up and applying for a new role. You want to lead people. Maybe you’re already a natural leader. You discovered the power of synergy, you found that helping others to achieve bigger goals is so satisfying. You are ready. It is excellent and probably in every industry, there is in need for good people leaders. In the end, it is the same experience as parents have when they help their kids to grow: unparalleled satisfaction, sense of accomplishment and legacy that every one of us wants to leave behind ourselves. Similarly to parenting, becoming a manager comes with a full package. Some things are not so glamorous, will make you occasionally frustrated and will test your decision of becoming the people leader almost every day.
You are a newbie again, how does that feel? 🆕 🏛
If you are a doer, you like to make a difference. You are an expert in your field. You have been probably in the industry for a while, and you have quite a few achievements and scars under your belt. Things are being done quickly and efficiently when you are involved.
You’ve been a subject matter expert, then became a technical leader, people naturally followed your guidance, and this is how you became a team lead. Now, to finally stamp the deal, you’re stepping in to become a formal manager. This is a new role. Most new managers do not realise this for a while.
You are no more an expert. You are again a newbie. The quicker you realise it, the better for you and for your team. You will learn, and you will make mistakes. It will take time, and sometimes you will see no progress for a while. Often it will be a painful experience. But, it is the process that you need to go through, and it is totally worth the effort.
Avoid an expert hat 🎩 🧐
The natural tendency is to go back to your default setting – to be an expert again. This is easy for you and you feel like you can immediately contribute to the team and to the organisation. Don’t get me wrong, in many cases, it is perfectly fine, as probably your team is shorthanded anyway and no one will stop the world of incoming work because your crew has a new people leader.
Having this said, being the expert and go-to person for everything is not your role anymore. You will need to find someone else to be this person instead. As much as you need to grow in your new role, that person will also need to advance too. Things will be done slower – you may argue. Absolutely. This person will not do things as fast and as good as I would do – you may add. Yes, this is highly possible.
And this is a desirable state. You need to give people space to grow. Your team will go through the forming and storming phase before it will rocket to performing once again.
Long day at work with nothing done 📅 ✅❓
Every change requires time. Organisation change, involving people will also need time. For you, it will be a careful balance between stepping in and helping people with stuff being done to meet deadlines and to learn how to serve the best as a leader.
You will need to invest in soft skills more then you have been investing in hard skills that got you the expert level. Your team will require some coaching to fill the gap that you left, to go through the forming and storming phases and to keep things done in the meantime. This is a new role for you as well.
You need to learn how to coach people, maybe you will need to get a mentor or coach yourself. In the meantime, you will need to sit on different meetings too. And no one will magically increase the number of hours in a day. At some point, you may find that something is not quite right.
Be prepared for a longer time with no tangible achievements 🤲 🕰
You used to do things. Stuff that mattered. You were able to go through your to-do list at the end of the day and clearly point out what has been done, where you provided value, what are the next steps that you need to attack tomorrow. One of the downsides of your new role is that this clarity and tangibility of your achievements will not be that easy to obtain. Things that are your primary focus now – team building, learning your new role, adjusting to a new routine and schedule – all of them will not provide you with a list of achievements. You will need to look for a sense of accomplishment elsewhere.
Try to write down everything that you need to do per day. Even if it is as trivial as scheduling regular 1 on 1 with members of your team. It will be “done” as soon as you put the reoccurring events in your calendars. Another tip that I practice is to perform weekly reviews where I look close to all of my interactions, meetings, tickets, Trello cards and try to define the next steps, determine if they are relevant etc.
In other words, you will need to rebuild your system and try to make your work as satisfying as possible. Take into account your character and what motivates you on the one hand, and to make you effective as a people leader on the other side.
Leading people through … bureaucracy 📜 📃 📑
I touched on this already, but let’s spell it out. The bigger the organisation is, the bigger the bureaucracy is. No one does it on purpose to you. It is just a result of different systems being still in use, new experiments, and sometimes compliance requirements. From the methods to put your people’s holiday request, through keyboard ordering and approvals, up to all mandatory training that someone significant, somewhere up there will track and report back to even more prominent someone.
It could be frustrating as hell. It just adds to your already busy schedule and sometimes prevents you and your team from achieving important goals. Let’s face it, no one likes it, but your attitude, on your people leader role, will set the tone. There are probably good reasons that stuff is done the way it is done. That particular systems are in place, and people need to follow specific procedures. Try to find it out. Try to clarify it to yourself and to your team. If some stuff is really annoying, check if you can find a way to flag it, report it and possibly change it.
The bottom line is – you need to own it. Your attitude will reflect on how your team will react to it. If you moan, complain and bitch, everyone will do the same thing. Some people may read it as permission not to follow certain things, and you and your team may end up in a mess. Own it, find the reason, communicate and go on.
Which team is my team? 🐝 🐅
You have been part of your team forever, maybe you even helped to create this team. That means there is certain camaraderie. You have built stuff together, you celebrated successes, you suffered failures and outages together. You are one of them. Well, I have news for you. It is no more the truth. By stepping into a managerial role, you effectively left your team.
You are now part of a new team with your current senior leader and your peer managers. You manage your “old” group, but you are now part of another team. In practice, it means that if you find something annoying, you will naturally want to share it with your old fellows. If you learn something valuable from your boss, you will naturally want to pass the information to your folks. In most cases, this is a good thing to do.
People want to see you as a person who has his/her own feeling. People wish for transparency; what has been going on to see a broader picture. However, as usual, there is a dichotomy there. You can send the wrong message when you participate in the complaining session. People may read it as approval to omit unpopular choices. On the other hand, there may be information about things that, for instance, are coming in the future, but from a strategic point of view should not be shared yet. And that leads me to the last point.
Loneliness on the top 😣 🔝
The situation has changed now. The members of your old team are no more your “buddies”. Your word, written and spoken has a different weight now. This could be as trivial as your opinion shared over casual conversations. It could be taken as the path to go rather than just another viewpoint to consider.
All of the above will create something that leaders call loneliness on the top. And by the top, I don’t mean you being CEO of the company, although this term comes from this level of the hierarchy. You can still feel lonely being a line manager and having a small number of folks that report to you.
Your new job will require you to maintain a healthy balance between being a friend, and almost like a family with your team. On the other hand, you need to be able to detach from the field, stand a little bit aside to be able to make the right decisions, see the whole team progress, as well as be able to mentor individual contributors in your small organisation.
Lessons learned from this coffee journey 🎓
- It is a great feeling to be able to contribute to other people success.
- Natural path for highly skilled technical people is to start helping others to grow in their fields.
- Either as a technical lead or people leader, your role will change when you formally step into a new opportunity.
- It is better to consider some pitfalls in advance, analyse pros and cons, go and crash new duties being equipped with as much knowledge as possible.
- Remember – you are a newbie again, it is fine to learn, to admit you don’t know something, to make mistakes and try again.
- Things are different now, the best you can do is to find a good mentor, a person who is more advanced in this journey and talk, learn and grow together.
I hope I didn’t stop you from the plans to step in to become a technical or a people leader. My intention was to share some of my own learnings and frustrations to make it easier for you.
In the next post, I will share more about tools, practices and routines that helped me to go over those challenges when I stepped into a people leader role. It is, after all, a very satisfying, fulfilling and powerful experience to be able to accompany others in their journey to become better themselves.
What is your biggest fear when it comes to becoming a new manager? Maybe you are already in this position leading people, and you have your own struggles?