Transition to Managing People is a Roller Coaster Ride

roller-coasterIf you want to advance in your career, advancement to people management is an important milestone to achieve.  It takes 5-10 years to get promoted to manager.  That’s like the initial climb into a Roller Coaster ride.  The top looks wonderful and it’s thrilling to keep climbing up and up the team member ladder until eventually you reach the day where you are promoted.

Now comes the bad news – as soon as you are promoted, expect a very bumpy ride with drastic ups and downs.   Managing people well and becoming a Rockstar at it takes very different skill sets than the skills needed to be an outstanding team member.   Even if the company gives you proper training and practice prior to promotion, it can still be a jarring change once you are a new people manager.

I must admit I was a pretty terrible manager when I was first promoted in 2003.  I probably made every mistake there is.  As a top performing team member, I found the transition to managing people much harder than expected

  • I didn’t know how to delegate.  As a team member, I was great at taking extra ownership, but as a manager, I couldn’t easily give away ownership to my team.   I was too worried that my team wouldn’t do it right.  So I was only comfortable giving them smaller tasks and ended up working my butt off and de-motivating my team at the same time.
  • I expect my team member to act and perform like me.  I was hard working, perfectionist, over committed as a team member which is why I was also tagged as a “superstar” in my reviews.  That didn’t translate at all when I became a manager.  I expected each of my team members to think and act like me.  I know I was pretty arrogant.  When someone did the work I asked but didn’t do it the way I would’ve done it, I told them what was wrong and only focused on that. Ouch, even as I describe it, I feel the cringe of this abrasive style.   Needless to say, not very motivating
  • I tried hard to still be friends with my team.  You may say what’s wrong with that, well, let me explain.  As a team member, it was great to be able to get together with peers and bitch about the boss, the clients, the partners or also talk about social life like dating etc…It’s a way to bond and blow off some steam Well, as a manager, I tried to stay “cool and friendly,” so I still hung out with my team and complained about the project, my boss, and even get into too much detail about my failing dating life at the time.  Well, don’t do it. Once you are a manager, you are on the other side, trying to be “friends” in the same way will only lead your team to feel uncomfortable or uncertain whether you got a handle on everything.

It took a serious work injury (a long story to be told later) and a lot of introspection and practice for me to learn how to be a good manager and appreciate the rewards of being one.

  • I learned how to accomplish more as a team than I could ever alone.  You will succeed if your team succeeds.
  • I felt the satisfaction of being able to build a high performing team even if I was given a group of people with mix motivations and skills.
  • I learned how to do less and accomplish more.  Once you invest enough time up front to build, motivate, and direct a team, you can actually work less while your team still achieves the results needed.
  • Most importantly, I experienced a level of success from work that neither a promotion nor a raise had ever given me.  And it stemmed from seeing that I have helped my team members develop their skills and careers in a constructive way, earned personal gratitude and respect from my team members, and fundamentally affected their work lives in a good way.

So if you are currently a Rockstar team member, be prepared to learn a whole new set of skills when you are promoted to manage others.  It’s trying at times but also exciting and will set the foundation for you at the next level of your career – management and leadership.  As I have made plenty of mistakes and also achieved success in building/leading high performing teams, I look forward to sharing more lessons learned about how to become a Rockstar manager.

Your comments:  Has the transition to managing people been difficult for you?  Add your comments below and let’s have a discussion. 

I am always in your corner.

– Lei

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