Transitioning From Individual Contributor To Manager

Updated Dec 21, 20225 min
Transitioning From Individual Contributor To Manager

Transitioning From Individual Contributor To Manager

Brian WhiteUpdated Dec 21, 20225 min
Transitioning From Individual Contributor To Manager

Transitioning into a leadership role is an exciting time. It’s a major milestone in your career and can open any number of future opportunities for learning and growth.

You’ll have the opportunity to make an impact on a larger scale, and as such, you’ll need to think on a larger scale. As you navigate this transition, you’ll likely face a whole host of emotions including excitement, anticipation, insecurity, and fear.

But by tapping into the skills you already possess, and with a little help putting together a personal success plan, your leadership capacity and performance will increase, and you’ll make a positive and lasting impact in your new role, with your team members, and for the organization as a whole.

Here are some strategies to help with your leadership transition as a new manager.

Adjust Your Perspective as a First-Time Manager

Remember when you were going to emulate your vision of the perfect leader and do things differently? Well, you may not incorporate all the best qualities of leadership right out of the gate, but you definitely own it now.

This requires adjusting your perspective.

Where before you might have adopted a “me” perspective, this now moves to “others.” You’re responsible for more than just what you can produce, and your leadership will be judged by the motivation, cohesiveness, and success of the team.

You can’t do it all yourself. And no matter how hairy things might get at times, resist the urge to slip back into your old mindset and ride in as the hero.

You’ve got a new job now, and you’ll need to tap into the motivation and expertise of your direct reports in order to deliver the goods.

Take a step back and look at problems from a leader’s perspective. Where are your team members' talents best positioned? What resources do you need or have at your disposal? Who do you need to enlist, and where can you pull from an enterprise or cross-functional perspective to get the job done?

Delegate For Success

New leadership roles are exciting, but once the shine of the “honeymoon” wears off and expectations kick in, they can often be overwhelming.

As our scope and responsibilities increase, so too do the deliverables for which we’re responsible.

If your “To-Do” list continues to grow, you may find yourself being pulled to work on more “tactical” items that can provide a sense of accomplishment. It’s natural to want to prove our value; especially to those who made the decision to promote us, but they’re also watching to see how we engage others and make and contribute to strategic decisions.

High performers have trouble saying “no” and you’ll likely be tempted to take on more than you can reasonably handle early on, but it might be better to delegate specific tasks to others on the team. This helps establish a “leadership process” and will help set you up for future success, and promotion into positions with an even larger scope.

Before you jump in to start crossing things off your list, take a step back and problem-solve from a leader’s perspective. Are you really the best person to tackle this task? How are the team and your organization best served here?

Reach For A Heart Before You Reach For A Hand

In his book, “The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership,” John Maxwell lays out the “Law of Connection,” where a leader is advised to reach for a heart before they reach for a hand.

Whether you were promoted and now lead your former colleagues, or moved to another team in the organization, you must initiate a connection with your team both collectively and individually on an emotional level. Sometimes the heart you reach for first is your own.

In order to connect with others, you must first know yourself. A leader must identify their strengths and opportunities, relatability, ability to create and share a compelling vision, and have an accurate accounting of all the assets and deficits they bring to the table.

So much of leadership development focuses on basic skills while neglecting the leader’s core values and mindset. This is where coaching is an effective process. Many leaders appreciate an objective, third-party thought partner to help wrestle with some of the more challenging personal and professional circumstances they’re facing.

You Have Two Ears And One Mouth - Use Them Proportionally

As mentioned earlier, taking on a new leadership role is exciting. You’ll want to jump in and change things, fix things, and do great things. But before you start directing others and focusing on your agenda, take time to understand the perspective of others.

Listening builds trust.

People want to know that they’re heard and can have an impact on what they do. Just as you have what you need to grow into your role, your team members also come to the table with knowledge and skills, and they’re evaluating your use of collaboration and inclusion as you take the reins. They’ll likely have knowledge and insight you’ll want to apply to any number of opportunities, and a good leader remembers the 80-20 rule; listen 80% of the time, and talk 20%. It’s a formula for success.

Define Your Leadership Style as a New Manager

Leadership is a dynamic, active process, and one style does not fit all.

Many new leaders err in believing they need to establish themselves with an authoritarian leadership style. They tend to rely more on positional (title) authority rather than personal (integrity, service, relationships) authority.

Much has been written about developing one’s “authentic” leadership style or approaching it from a “purpose-driven” perspective. Some assert they must lead from the front, while others take more of a collaborative position. Some aspire to be servant leaders.

To be sure, leadership is situational and evolving, and the expectations (and therefore skills) we develop as leaders are ongoing. You are constantly developing your brand, and it is wise to be evaluating what works or doesn’t, and why.

Dos and Don’ts For Your Leadership Transition

Finally, whether you’re stepping into a leadership role for the first time, or stepping into a new role as a seasoned executive, how you handle the transition will position you for, or detract from your future success.

Leaders need allies and advocates in order to influence for positive results, and good leaders know they need to develop social and human capital to back their initiatives. This is an important time to build trust with your direct reports and to define your management style.

Social relationships among leaders and their teams are nuanced, but here are two points to consider when you’re connecting with your people as a new manager.

Don’t overshare, but make it a point to relate to your team members on a personal level.

The old adage goes, “People don’t leave companies, they leave managers.” This is largely true, and it highlights the opportunities people leaders have to help their team members connect with the leader’s vision and that of the company, and see themselves as contributing to shared goals. Creating this positive culture is a sign of great management skills, and even more so, great leadership skills. 

With a strong connection to their leader, employees see themselves as part of something larger (engagement). They’re more likely to work well within the team structure (collaborative teamwork), and they offer more discretionary effort (effort not required by the organization, but given freely).

Connecting on a personal level doesn’t mean the leader needs to overshare personal details. Most of your new team members will simply want to know enough to make you “human.” Sharing more about your outside interests and motivations will help others connect with your core values, and how they align with future change, initiatives, and other decisions that could/will impact them personally.

If you find yourself wanting management training on how to lead performance reviews or ways to give constructive feedback, consider a career coach. Placement offers a range of coaches that can help you upskill fast.

Tell your “story.”

So what’s your career narrative? How did you get to this point in your life? How did events help shape your trajectory and contribute to the person you are today? And what were the lessons you learned along the way?

Your team wants to understand what led you here, but they also want to know where you’re going. Since your goals as a leader have an impact on the team, take some time to communicate how they are integral to your story. Keep them in the loop so they feel like they are valued and included. 

Many leaders use an “all-hands” meeting to introduce themselves and discuss foundational principles, expectations, and values. Take some time to address these topics individually with your direct reports as well. A good strategy for getting people “on the bus” includes identifying where core values and experiences, and expectations are shared. Given your new managerial position, this is part of your job responsibility.

Incorporating these strategies can help you make a successful leadership transition, but it’s also important to recognize you don’t have to be perfect.

Don’t be afraid to show people you know your strengths, weaknesses, and that you’re committed to growing as a leader every day.

If you’re contemplating a leadership journey, whether it be your first leadership role or the next in a distinguished career, coaching can help you reach your full potential and the performance level you and your organization expect. Schedule a demo with an expert Placement coach today.

I help VP and C-Suite executives lead more confidently and decisively so they can drive personal and organizational success.
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