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Leadership thoughts from PeopleFirst HR


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Transitioning from peer to boss – part II

The transition from peer to manager cannot occur overnight, even though the day after your promotion expectations change drastically. It takes a lot of time and effort, so it’s helpful to think of the transition as a journey. The changes require time to take root, usually years.  You may be lucky enough to have had great mentors along the way, but I find in many cases the opposite is true. That means it’s really up to you.  You make progress on your journey through trial and error.

Fortunately, most managers begin to make progress, but many fail to complete their journeys. They stop short of acquiring the necessary skills, knowledge, values, outlook, self-knowledge, judgment, and especially emotional competence.

Most new managers start out receptive to change and learning because of their initial discomfort in their new position. But as they begin to learn the ropes and no longer fear imminent failure, too often they grow complacent.

Every organization has its ways of doing things — rules of thumb, policies, standard practices, unspoken rules and guidelines — such as “promote by seniority,” “smooth over conflict,” and a host of others. Once learned, they are ways of getting along, and new managers use them to get by. Instead of confronting a performance problem, they fill out the obligatory annual performance appraisal and simply negotiate the wording with the person involved.

They do enough to meet the status quo because that’s all that’s required of them. Indeed, they stop thinking of what’s possible and focus on what’s expected.

They hire people who are just good enough. They progress to the point that management no longer feels new and strange. When they no longer fear imminent failure, they grow comfortable. They “manage,” in the worst sense of the word. That’s why years of experience are not necessarily an indication of effective management.

This surely accounts for the wide range of mastery among managers, even those with considerable experience. Based on what I have seen, most organizations have a few great managers, some good managers, a horde of mediocre managers, some poor managers, and some awful managers. Like most of us, you’ve probably had, at one time or another, a boss whose ineffectiveness made you wonder how could someone like this become or remain a manager?

With all the time commitment required, and the fact that most organizations fail to provide enough initial help and resources for inexperienced managers, it’s not surprising that so many stop short of completing their journey. Full mastery comes slowly, as with any serious skill, and requires steady progress in a world that keeps throwing up ever more complex challenges and opportunities.

I know highly competent managers that believe they are still learning even after years of experience. They have taken the initiative and time to challenge themselves to become better every day. They accept and look for criticism, so they can explore solutions.  In the end these type managers become future mentors.

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Transitioning from peer to boss

Why, for most that enter it, does management present so many surprising hurdles and frustrate so many presumptions and expectations?

First, management is different from anything you’ve done before. Becoming an effective manager is difficult because of the great variance that separates the work of management from the work of individual contributor.

Many managers think at first that managing others will be an extension of managing themselves. They assume they will be doing what they did previously, except they will exercise more control over their work and the work of others. Instead, they find they must make a great leap into a new and strange universe unlike anything they’ve encountered before.

This is especially true if you’re a producing manager who must combine the roles of individual contributor and manager. At first, you naturally tend to think the managerial role is simply a broader version of managing yourself. Only with time and painful experience will you discover it’s totally different.  Becoming an effective manager requires that you not only acquire new skills and knowledge but also undergo difficult personal change.

Those who become managers must learn to see themselves and their work differently. They must develop new values, deeper self-awareness, increased emotional maturity, and the ability to exercise wise judgment.

Many managers, for example, are accused of being control freaks because they don’t delegate. But a desire for control often isn’t the problem.  Instead, it’s an issue of identity. They haven’t yet changed how they think about themselves and their contribution, the value they add as managers. They resist giving up the role of doer because they believe, if only unconsciously, that’s who they are. They have not learned to see themselves as the leader.

In fact, becoming a manager requires so much personal learning and change that it is truly a transformation, similar to the transformations required by such life events as leaving home, finishing school and beginning a career, getting married, or having a child.

Like these profound inflection points, becoming an effective manager will call on you to act, think, and feel in new ways; discover new sources of satisfaction; and relinquish old, comfortable, but now outmoded roles and self-perceptions. It requires you to consider anew the questions: Who am I? What do I want? What value do I add?  Take some time to answer these questions.

Progress will come more quickly and easily to those who understand the challenges they face.  I coach a lot of new managers and this post and several to follow is dedicated to their successful transition from employee to manager.