Becoming a Manager for the First Time: Shifting from Doing to Leading
Updated: Jul 26
The transition from IC (individual contributor) to a new manager is a notoriously difficult one.
Here are some common pitfalls of first-time managers and what they can do instead:
You're not part of the squad anymore.
Where you once got to participate in side Slack conversations during meetings and openly discuss your colleagues and leaders with your work pals, you now have to set an example of decorum and professionalism that's way less fun. A new title can lead to new dynamics and people might be more hesitant with you than before.
Take time to acknowledge the new dynamic and share with your colleagues what will stay the same and what will change in your relationship with them. This is also a great opportunity to be vulnerable and share with them what you know you'll be working on to be a better leader. Ask for the support you need so you can best support them in turn.
No more deliverables
You may haven't earned your new role by being excellent and executing, but that's not your job anymore. Your job is all about outcomes and working through and with others to drive results. This is probably the hardest transition of them all. You've got to reconsider your definition of success and learn to find a sense of accomplishment in the success of others. Take time to set goals that are both metric-based and also behavioral. Check-in with yourself or your leader regularly to see how you're progressing.
Delegating and letting go.
The skills that led you to leadership aren't going to necessarily propel you forward anymore. It's important that you leave the doing to your team and that you set your sights on team and company-wide goals, even if it all feels foreign. You need to develop and nurture a team you can rely on. If they aren't are the level you would like, it's up to you to invest the time required into developing those skills. It's going to feel like going slow to go fast, but you need to focus on other things and your team needs to grow to fill the gap you're leaving behind.
More and more responsibility
Not only are responsible for outcomes, you are responsible to the people who are intended to deliver them. Your role has become WAY more complicated as each team member is going to bring different skills and needs to the table and it's now on you to manage the whole team cohesively. Meet with your team regularly to understand individual needs, collective team dynamics, and how to can get everyone working well together even with different skill sets and personalities. The more you focus on your team's growth, the better the outcomes will be.
Lack of experience
You've never done this before! Sure, you've had managers, good ones and bad, but being a leader is a whole different ballgame. You now have to identify your own unique leadership style and that is going to take a whole lot of trial and error. Seek out opportunities to learn, whether from others in your organization, working with a coach, or formalized training programs, always be looking to develop yourself. Leadership is life long learning and you are only just at the beginning. Be patient with yourself, but persevere. It'll be worth it!