The New Manager Series

Photo by Amy Hirschi

“I’m sorry, can you repeat that again,” I asked my manager. 

“Sure,” he smiled, “I said, congrats, you’ll be leading a team starting next month.”

And with that, I entered the world of management. 

After working diligently at the same company for two years I was now a manager, responsible for growing and developing a team. My employer was restructuring it’s services department, and I was chosen to lead a small team of 3 technical consultants. 

After my brain was able to fully process the news, I cracked a smile, and a few emotions ran through my system:

Joy. I’ve always wanted to lead a team and it was finally happening!

Pride. My hard work has paid off — I can’t wait to tell my parents and friends.

Appreciation: I’m thankful my efforts have been recognized.

But as I stepped outside the conference room and plopped down at my desk, a few different emotions rushed through my body.

Fear. Uncertainty. Apprehension.

I’ve never managed a team before — how the hell will I do this? My company doesn’t have any semblance of a training program — I’m going to have to figure this out on my own…and fast. 

Opening my laptop to resume the day’s work, I did what we all do when faced with life’s big questions — I Googled it. What I found was thousands of articles and books on general management techniques. What I did not find was focused guidance on helping the first-time manager navigate uncharted territory.

What I found was “12 Ways to Better Connect With Your Team”. What I needed was the best way for a new manager to connect with her team after working together as peers.

What I found was “Interview Questions Used by Top Tech Companies”. What I wanted was how a first-time manager should approach building a team.

What I found was “Management Advice From Fortune 500 CEOs”. What I craved was the new mental model I’d need to shift from a high performing individual contributor into a world-class manager. 

Closing my laptop with a sigh of apprehension — I knew was in for a bumpy ride. 

Fast forward a couple years and my initial responsibilities had morphed into a team of twenty-five people across five continents and nearly 24/7 coverage. How did I make it out alive? It wasn’t the groomed management training program and mentorship program of yesteryear. I suppose you could call me a student in the Management School of Hard Knocks. That’s to say, I figured it out as I went along — observing the best managers in the company (luckily, mine was one of them), lapping up any advice I could get my hands on, and just plain making a ton of mistakes.

I may have made it out alive, but it was a rough journey. As I think back on those initial years as a manager, I know there just has to be a better way. The more people I see promoted to management roles, the more I realize that companies aren’t properly preparing them for the road ahead. In fact, 87% of managers wish they’d had more training before becoming a manager. Proper management training and mentoring has been replaced with the fingers crossed mentality of “you’ve been a great worker so far and we know you’ll just figure it out”. 

In a step towards a world with more well-rounded and better prepared managers, this article marks the official kick-off of my “New Manager Series”  — a collection of wisdom specifically designed for first-time managers. Consider this my senior thesis before I officially graduate from the Management School of Hard Knocks 

Before we begin, I have two favors to ask:

  1. Do you know anyone that recently stepped into their first management role? If so, spread the word. This, and all future New Manger Series (NMS) posts, will help jump start their foray into Management . They can also receive article email alerts by signing up here.
  2. Do you have any management stories or advice? I’d love to include them in a future post. Comment below or drop me an email.

And now, without further ado, the New Manager Series.

Goals Have Changed

There’s a good chance you were promoted to manager after establishing yourself as a top performer. You worked on the most important projects and were responsible for the toughest clients. Your goal was to attack the assignment, execute flawlessly, and (if you’re lucky) celebrate for a few minutes before moving onto the next one. 

You were the star wide receiver — catching a sideline pass, evading defenders, scoring, and spiking the ball in victory:

But the moment you became a manager, your position on the field of business changed. You no longer score the points — you are now the entire offensive line:

As a manager, your job is not to obtain individual success. You win when your team wins. 

What often makes this transition more challenging is that your manager likely failed to communicate these new success metrics. Imagine a football coach telling a receiver that he’d now be on the offensive line, but to “just keep on doing what you’re doing”. Needless to say, a lineman trying to catch touchdowns is going to cause problems.

Even when you recognize your position has changed, it’s hard to shift your mental model to the new normal. Scoring is fun. Working on the best projects is sexy. Being a blocker seems kind of…boring. The necessity to develop this new mental framework is a major contributor to the challenging transition from individual contributor to manager.  And like all big changes, this transformation will take time. The key is to detach your value — both your personal value and to the business — from your ownership of projects. When you reach a tipping point in your transformation, you’ll know it. I remember turning the corner during a one-on-one meeting where a team member was showing me a recent project she completed — and my eyes welling with tears of pride. 

The manager wins when her team wins, and, just like an offensive lineman, the manager does the little things to help her team score:

  • Solve problems. Sometimes you’ll be able to answer the questions yourself. But more often, you just have to point them in the right direction. 
  • Clear a career path. A person’s potential for growth is a major contributor to their overall job satisfaction. Growth is the combination of skill development and career path. You’re responsible for both of these factors, but a career path is like a trail in the woods — if left ungroomed, it will overgrow and eventually disappear. It’s your job to work with your team to find everyone’s unique path and diligently protect it from decay.
  • Acquire necessary resources. You’ll encounter situations where your team needs something outside of your immediate control. The onus is on you to make the internal case and acquire the needed resources. Maybe they’re overworked and additional headcount is needed. Or there’s a new software tool that will prevent everyone from unnecessary manual work. Your task is to find a way to make it happen. 
  • Avoid distractions. Work distractions happen all the time and your mission is to keep your team protected from these constant threats. This may be an unruly client who is knocking down morale, internal politics that is causing negativity to swirl around the office, or shifting priorities across competing projects. Distractions can take many forms, and you need to be on the prowl for anything threatening the teams productivity. Once identified, you step in to protect your team — just like an offensive lineman shielding his team from pesky defenders. 

Always be on the lookout to clear a path for your team to help make their jobs easier  — because they’re the ones scoring points. 

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