It is often the case within organisations, that strong contributors get promoted to team leaders or managers. There is this assumption that if someone has strong technical competencies and is performing above average, then such individuals would naturally progress to manage others and that they would be equally good at it.
The reality is that managing people requires its own set of skills and a number of first-time managers struggle to juggle the new facets that such a role brings with it. One's time management needs to suddenly factor in the deliverables of others, answering their queries, while ensuring there are no bottlenecks. One's own deliverables are often being side-tracked to answer questions, handle escalated matters, recruiting new team members or sitting down with a new team member to provide training. If that weren't enough, personalities of team members are often varied requiring one to adjust communication from one person to the next.
One of the unexpected hurdles first-time managers often encounter, is that of suddenly feeling ‘left out'. Once a team member is promoted to a more senior level, he/she often stops being privy to the coffee machine banter than often flows in organisations. Doubts start creeping in – am I liked? Should I try to be liked? Where do I set my boundaries?
Progressing to a more senior role challenges the first-time manager to deal with a new reality – being set apart ultimately often results in feeling ‘lonely'. Despite one's best effort to maintain a low hierarchy and even in the flattest of organisations - the people who were once peers are now direct reports. And the reality is that creating a boundary is healthy for the productivity and harmony of the team. Unfortunately, in an effort to be liked, first-time managers often find it hard to balance being friendly and genuine without crossing boundaries, and this can be damaging to the team and one's own role as a new manager. On the other hand, some take it to the other extreme, being too militaristic and emotionally distant for fear of losing one's sense of authority or not being perceived as credible.
A key trait that has been heavily researched in management is developing one's emotional intelligence (EQ). Managing others requires us to adjust how we respond to others, how we communicate and how we build relationships. It also requires a strong dose of self-awareness and realising how our own behaviour and words can impact others. Whilst some first-time managers will have personalities that have already developed a high EQ, others would need to work on these traits and find a mentor within their organisation or an external coach who can help them navigate through the experience of managing others, slowly unlearning habits while at the same time developing more effective leadership skills.
Aside from the personal growth that invariably needs to take place when one moves from an individual contributor to a team manager, the first-time manager is also faced with a myriad of HR processes. Interviewing and selecting new team members, giving and obtaining feedback, recognising strong performers, dealing with poor performers before it's too late, holding annual appraisals and dealing with any disciplinary issues that may occur from time to time. These processes are based on their own set of technical competencies that in some cases are also intertwined with employment law. What questions are actually illegal to ask in an interview? And what happens if the probation has lapsed but I wish to address poor performance from a team member? These are just some of the questions that first-time managers find themselves dealing with.
Managing others is an affirming experience and one which many people look forward to as part of their career development. At the same time, it can be an overwhelming period which leaves a number of new managers scrambling through trial and error. It is in a company's best interest to support first-time managers to succeed – so why not factor in training and coaching as part of the new remuneration package? By providing tailored training and ongoing coaching the manager is set on a path to developing those skills and inner resources to help them be as brilliant in their role as leaders as they were when they were successful individual contributors.
This article was originally published in the Times of Malta on 7th March 2021.
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