When I entered the workforce, the role of “manager” was one that I aspired to. It was this shiny role, one that was held in such esteem. If only I could be a “manager,” I thought to myself, I will have surely arrived.
Then, I became one and had a crash course in what it really means to lead people vs “manage.” I went from being a peer to now leading the very team I was part of. You can only imagine all the challenges I encountered — ones that could have been avoided had someone taken a moment to give me some tips. It’s my turn to pay it forward and share what I learned.
As an individual contributor, I was responsible for the work. The projects, tasks, assignments, etc. The work was how I was rewarded and recognized. As a manager, yes, I still have tasks and projects, but to a lesser extent. There is a new “task” that was added to the list: engage, motivate and support people. It’s not an “add-on” to what I did before and something I will “get to” when and if I find the time. Managing people is now part of what I do now and what I am held accountable for.
To successfully navigate this transition, I had to learn what and how to delegate to others to help them grow, as well as free up a portion of my time to lead. I needed to spend time:
This was the hardest shift to make. Colleagues that would previously confide in me no longer did, and it was an emotional shock to the system. I learned that I was now the “boss” and the nature of the role changed the dynamic between us. I was now going to delegate, hold people accountable, provide feedback, do performance reviews, etc.
Understandably so, my colleagues didn’t feel as comfortable being as open and free with sharing. And in my case, not everyone was as excited as I was about the change. With the change in relationships, I needed to seek out my new peer group and build new relationships, while learning to manage the ones that I already had.
During my first leadership role, I was enrolled in a leadership course titled “The Legal Record.” It really opened my eyes to not just the “soft skills” of managing, but the legal accountability I didn’t know about. We were put into teams to work through a case study, looking at documents and emails pertaining to a mock employee. We were asked to discuss what happened and how things were handled. It was all typical leadership development stuff until the instructor, who used to be a prosecuting attorney, called on a manager to “take the stand.” I watched as a colleague was asked about the decisions, why he didn’t do something or say something, and the lightbulb went off.
As a leader and representative of the organization, I have a duty to act. When I see something that needs to be addressed, I need to say something. Before, I would have weighed my options and risks or said something to management. I was now management. I needed to be the voice for both employees and the organization.
Going from doing to leading required me to think about what was on my plate and assess what others working with me could (and should) be doing instead of me. What was handed over to me in my role that I could now hand over? That’s the tactical part of managing.
Then, there was my own personal re-framing that needed to happen. I worried that I would be giving my direct reports too much or they wouldn’t want to do it. Yet I re-framed this to learn that by not delegating my work, I wasn’t empowering my team. I was sending an unintended message that I didn’t trust them with the work or think they were capable. I realized how excited I got when a leader trusted me to take on something they were previously doing. It gave me a chance to grow and learn both personally and professionally, and I wanted to do the same for my team.
Looking back, when I effectively delegated, my time was freed to up work on other things and be there to coach and guide as they learned and developed.
Hindsight is always 20/20 and by no means have I “arrived” as a leader. I am constantly learning what it means to lead others to bring out the best in them and myself, and I am excited to continue my management journey.
This article reflects the views of the author and not necessarily those of Fairygodboss.
Kristy is an executive coach and talent management consultant, who is known for helping individuals, teams and organizations unleash their potential, one conversation at a time. What is your Next conversation? Check out Next Conversation Coaching to see how she can help you today.