Becoming a manager for the first time is one of the hardest transitions to navigate through. It becomes extra hard when it happens early in your career while you are still learning the ins and outs of your job. Today’s increased pace of growth for companies often means that people with only a few years of experience get put into roles as managers or owners of important initiatives or teams.
The tough thing about becoming a manager for the first time is that instead of being able to figure out your job on your own, you’re doing it with your whole team watching. Every move you make is observed and evaluated, and subsequently drives your team’s perception of you. Who wouldn’t be nervous under that type of scrutiny?
While there isn’t a formula for finding your own style and approach as a leader, there is a very obvious change that happens when you become a manager: you are no longer an individual contributor. Yet many people try to apply the same techniques or tactics to management that made them successful as an individual.
Here are 3 important lessons for managers making the transition for the first time.
#1: Lose the Mindset that Time In = Time Out
As cliche as it sounds, don’t work harder, work smarter. As an individual contributor, your time spent can have a high correlation to what you produce and what you’re evaluated on. A marketing associate at a software company might have goals based on the number of content articles posted, collateral created, campaigns run. When you get promoted, the goals focus on the actual results that those activities generate. It’s not how many posts, it’s how many people those posts reached. It’s not campaigns run, it’s how many leads came out of them. No one cares if it took two weeks to design the campaign if no customers convert.
As a new manager you’re often also still doing the work you got promoted for. This is one of the toughest habits to break but an important one to prioritize. It’s inevitable that there is a period of overlap, but the trap many people fall into is staying on that treadmill of doing all the work themselves while also taking on new management responsibilities. This usually means working longer and longer hours to try to get everything done. This is dangerous because one of the most important things managers need to do is prioritize. When you’re exhausted and overworked, it’s hard to find the energy and mental capacity to do that effectively. There are lots of tools to prioritize your time, a popular one is Stephen Covey’s Time Management Matrix.
One of the best things you can do is to make it a goal to get back to a manageable pace of work. Creating time constraints means that you have to make decisions about where to spend your time. Yes, this means that some things don’t get done in the short-term. Tasks may take longer to complete as you train or hire someone else to backfill. But that investment has to happen if you ever want to get off the treadmill.
#2: Forget Knowing Everything
Becoming a manager means getting comfortable with the fact that at some point you may no longer know how to do the work of your team. This may feel counterintuitive because people usually get promoted for being the “best” at their job. This isn’t a free pass to stop learning and understanding what they are doing. It simply means that you may no longer know exactly which dials and buttons to push to get the account setup or the systems running. This can be intimidating if you think that your job as a manager is to tell people HOW to do their job. It’s not. Your role is to set clear priorities and then know enough to help them when they get stuck.
#3: Your Job is No Longer Your Only Priority
A big shift that people miss when they first get promoted is that their only job is their job. Huh? This simply means thinking that as a finance manager you are only responsible for finance. It’s a given that you do your job and deliver on the expectations of your team. What’s not a given, but often a very real underlying expectation, is that managers think BEYOND their job and teams. e.g. What processes do I need to create with the sales team to bring down our cost of sales? What’s really the best budget for the company across all departments?
The importance of understanding the roles of each department and how they work together to achieve the company goals is a crucial part of becoming a successful manager. Managers often spend a lot of time cultivating their own teams, but forget that they are now part of a larger team and peer group of managers that run across departments. Building those bridges and demonstrating that you understand the bigger picture are critical skills that senior executives look for in the next level of leadership. Nailing this will show them you understand the broader company objectives while helping your department succeed through the support of other teams.
Managing for the first time will always be a challenge – but hopefully with some of these tips it can give you some insight into how to make that transition more successfully, and with less stress. Now go get ’em!