What do you do when you’ve been fast tracked into a management position and you’re now wondering if it was the best career move?
Margaret, a talented young engineer, came up to me with that question at a professional meeting where I spoke on “Leadership Intelligence: How to Use Your Power and Influence Effectively”.
In a very short period of time, she went from a self-fulfilled, highly competent individual contributor to a stressed out leader. She found that she did not enjoy confronting under performers; didn’t know how to hold them accountable; and disliked navigating the inevitable office politics. She was starting to think that she had made a mistake in accepting the promotion.
What’s the Challenge?
People with technical expertise are often promoted because they have recognized knowledge and skills in their field. Whether it’s IT, finance, sales, marketing or whatever functional area, they have been doing great work. After all, that’s what got them noticed! The problem is that companies often promote people based on these technical skills not on their people skills. And many offer very little support to new leaders especially in the how-tos of effective management.
Another issue for Margaret is that her professional identity has changed. She may have been a superstar in her previous role, but now she’s starting at the beginning again. It can be difficult for new leaders to cope with this identity question:
Am I a highly competent engineer, marketer, accountant, etc. OR am I an incompetent manager?
Advice for Margaret
First, it’s very common for new leaders to feel overwhelmed and possibly not as confident as they normally are. Don’t despair, don’t ignore it and don’t do something rash like quit your job. Instead, follow these four strategies to see it as a leadership opportunity not a personal failure.
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- Make two lists.
The first shows your strengths – the skills, experience and personal attributes that got you to this point in your career. Don’t sell yourself short! The second shows what you must improve to be a better leaders. Some of the skills that are essential for mangers are delegation, motivating others, communication, performance management and team building. Now develop a game plan so that you can start improving on them immediately. Talk with your boss and get his support for training, mentoring or coaching.
- Work on your emotional intelligence
A big part of being a manager is gaining self-awareness, understanding others and practicing self-improvement. This is why great leaders are said to have an advanced level of “emotional intelligence.” They have the ability to perceive how their words and actions are affecting those around them and can adjust accordingly.
- Let go of being the expert or the savior.
Of course there’s the temptation to roll up your sleeves and get involved with projects especially if your team is floundering a bit. Sure, it’s good to pitch in with advice when needed, but make sure that you do the managing part of your role first. That’s what you’re paid for and evaluated on.
- Avoid being the Lone Ranger.
Look for someone who has made a transition similar to yours. An internal mentor can help you avoid the mistakes that he or she has made and provide you with insight into the political realities. An external coach, who has worked with new managers or people in high level positions, can offer you advice, support and confidentiality on how to excel in your new role.[/message]
Smart Moves Tip:
Making the transition from technical expert to leader can be challenging yet very doable. Focus on two things: Getting the skills you need to effectively manage the people as well as the projects and getting some quick wins – small victories you and the team can achieve quickly. This will make your transition much easier—and more fun, too.
What’s been your experience as a first time leader? Did you get the training, support and coaching you needed to excel or were you left to sink or swim? Comments are welcome. Let’s start a conversation!
My Motto Is:
If you do what you always did, you will get what you always got. Therefore, MOVE outside of your comfort zone; thats where the MAGIC happens.” To bring that magic to your leadership and business, subscribe to Marcias monthly Execubrief: Business Edge Smart Growth Strategies with a insights, inspiration and intelligence on how to build great businesses that matter those that do well and do good.
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