- Why you should read this: you’ve been made a manager, but no-one has really explained what that means beyond telling you that you need to have one-on-one meetings with your team every couple of weeks and to keep up the good work. Surely there’s more to it than that? Where do you even start? This article suggests one way.
- Own the role: the first step to succeeding as a new manager is to embrace the role, and start aligning your professional identity around improving at it. This sounds incredibly basic, but many people get promoted to being a manager without ever really engaging with it as a core part of their job.
- Why this doesn’t happen: for several reasons. Often because managing isn’t truly valued within a company, particularly compared to delivery roles (so people continue to define themselves as salespeople first, sales manager second, or an engineer first, engineering manager second). Or because it’s new and challenging, so it’s easier to fall back on your other professional responsibilities which you presumably already excel at. Or you may just be unsure whether you want the role in the first place, which is fine, but you will still need to commit to it to succeed. In any of these situations, without some guidance, it can be easy not to fully engage with the role.
- Further tips: once you’ve decided to own the role, finding your way as a manager is also a whole lot easier with some allies to discuss challenges with and point out potential issues before you run headlong into them. If you want to improve your management skills, make sure your boss knows so they can hopefully create opportunities for you (poor bosses won’t instinctively assume it’s a skill people want to improve). Then, find others you can learn from - whether they be mentors, peers, or online communities. Start sharing ideas and learning from the experiences of others, particularly those at your company who will know the specific challenges and context you’ll face.
Congratulations, you’re a manager. How do you feel? Hopefully excited about having a team to work with, but slightly nervous about the scale of the task. Nerves are good. It means you have some idea of the weight of responsibility you’ve taken on, even if you don’t quite know what you’ve taken on. It means you’re well on your way to the first part of developing as a manager - owning the role.
This may sound incredibly obvious. But many who become managers don’t actually take this step. They seek refuge in their previous role (aspects of which are probably continuing) rather than exploring their new opportunity. They’re forever a senior developer first then an engineering manager; a lead consultant then a senior manager; a saleswoman then a sales manager. It’s very hard to progress if you don’t take this step.
‘Great managers are made, not born. But there is one caveat, and that caveat is this: you have to enjoy the day-to-day of management and want to do it.’ Julie Zhuo, The Making of a Manager
Why people struggle to commit to the role
So it may be clear that to do something well you have to want to do it, but there's a lot of reasons why for managers, this doesn’t happen.
- In some places, management isn’t sexy: hard to believe, we know. We wrote a whole piece on how the manager is the most underappreciated role in a company, so we won’t repeat ourselves. But suffice to say, when people become managers, often they’re reluctant to fully engage with this new part of their role because it’s not valued that highly at their organisation. Particularly compared to other delivery responsibilities they might have.
- No-one’s really mentioned it: obviously we’re mentioning it now. But up until this point, it might be that no-one in your organisation has told you to pause and consider your new responsibilities. You took the promotion and went on your way, rather than someone explaining to you how and why this is a massive deal. In many cases, this is linked to point 1.
- It’s new and difficult: some managers come into the role with some preparation, others are thrown into it - either way, it’s a complex, different set of responsibilities from what you might be used to. It’s often easier to assume that things won’t change too much (and get on with the existing work you excel at) rather than confront a new challenge.
- You’re not sure whether you want to be a manager: that’s fine! It’s ok not to know what you want in your career, and to have taken the job hoping you’ll like it. That does, however, make it instinctively hard to fully commit to the role. And if you want to be a success as a manager, you do really need to commit, even if it’s just in the short-term whilst you figure out whether you really want it.
- You don’t actually want to be a manager: people make career moves for all kinds of reasons, and often the only path to more money, power and status in an organisation lies through managing people. This sometimes leads to managers who don’t actually want the role, just the benefits that the title conveys.
Reasons 1 to 4 are all solvable, and we’re here to help. Reason number five is much trickier. Whilst there are understandable career and monetary reasons why you might take a management position when you don’t actually want it, fundamentally you’re going to have a difficult time succeeding at something you don’t want to do.
'When I ask you, ‘What do you love doing?’ a great answer is ‘I love investing in people and I love making them better, into the best versions of themselves.’ If that really brings you joy, great — being a manager is one of the most powerful and high-leverage jobs inside of organizations. But if the answer is no, then I’d strongly encourage you to not be a manager.' Molly Graham, COO, Lambda School
Making the manager part of your professional identity
So assuming you do want to be a good manager, own it. Even if no-one's really spoken to you about it, no-one’s focussed on it in your organisation, and you’re unsure where to start, you can still make a commitment to understanding how you can manage your team to the best of your ability.
Everything else is built on that. James Clear, the best-selling author on behavioural change, has a great framework for demonstrating how to make positive changes in your life and achieve results. He writes that there’s three layers you can change - your outcomes, your processes and your identity.
‘The ultimate form of intrinsic motivation is when a habit becomes part of your identity. It’s one thing to say I’m the type of person who wants this. It’s something very different to say I’m the type of person who is this.’ James Clear, Atomic Habits
Once you’ve become comfortable with an identity, then you can focus on the processes and outcomes that stem from that.
Without deciding that you want to be a great manager, it’s very hard to put in place the habits and practices to become one.
Conversely, once you’ve decided to become a great manager, you will start exploring ways to improve, and start forming the habit you need to succeed in the role. Regardless of whether you’re getting much support from others around you (although that definitely helps).
If you want the role. Own it.
Practical steps you can take today
Everyone’s situation is different, so we wouldn’t pretend to be able to give you exactly the right advice for next steps. However, finding your way as a manager is a whole lot easier with some allies to discuss challenges with and point out potential issues before you run headlong into them.
So whilst you can spend your time ploughing through medium posts and management books (we can offer recommendations if you drop us a line), learning quickly from the experience of others who know how to navigate your organisation is often the best way.
- Talk to your manager about the role: your boss may have raised this already, but if not, make it clear that being a manager is something you’re enthusiastic about and want to improve. Again, this sounds basic, but if your boss doesn’t particularly enjoy management, they won’t naturally sympathise with someone who does and create opportunities for them.
- Find a management mentor: do you know someone who’s management style you admire? It could be your own manager, but it doesn’t have to be. Ask them if they wouldn’t mind sharing some thoughts on what’s worked for them and what hasn’t. It will help you think about some of the challenges you’ll face and give you some ideas about how to approach them (as well as some welcome support in the role).
- Talk to peers: mentors and bosses are all very well, but sometimes they can be distant from the day-to-day challenges of the role. Peer coaching is a powerful way to learn. Talk to other managers at your level about the challenges they face. Perhaps even arrange to meet up regularly to discuss these things, or start a Slack channel to share ideas. If you don’t have any peers who would be the right fit for this, the Rands Leadership Slack channel is a wonderful online community of over 15,000 leaders who you can learn from.