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How Do I Make the Jump to Manager?

Have you always wanted to see the word “manager” appear somewhere in your job title?

That’s a great ambition — and an achievable goal — if you have the focus, work ethic and right attitude.

According to former Harvard Business School professor Michael Watkins, “If you take a typical group of mid-level executives and ask if they’ve ever been promoted to lead their peers, 90% of them will say yes.”

Consider the dynamics of transitioning from a team member to a team leader.

Here are some things you’ll want to keep in mind now, before that happens:

Work backwards from your goal

If your ideal career track involves becoming a manager, set yourself up for success early. Those who excel at negotiating the transition from peer to manager tend to do a few things well from the beginning. Start with the following:

  1. Take professionalism seriously. Commit to proper attire, appropriate language and perfect attendance. Know and understand human resources procedures — treat all colleagues fairly, set firm boundaries between the professional and personal aspects of co-worker relationships and avoid gossip and cliques.
  2. Stay positive. While no workplace is perfect, managers can’t afford to undermine themselves or reduce team morale by feeding a culture of negativity. If you find yourself wanting to vent negative thoughts about a person or system, rely on support available to you outside of the workplace.
  3. Solve without blaming. While finding the source of an issue can help your team avoid repeating an error, good managers focus more on solving problems than escaping blame for them. Take accountability when you’ve made a mistake, and don’t be afraid to work with others to tackle complex problems.
  4. Communicate. Successful managers know that good communication involves talking and listening. Ask questions that help you understand other team members’ points of view and summarise their thoughts in your own words to make sure you’ve got it right.
  5. Be honest and forthright. If you have management aspirations, tell your supervisor. If you need help, ask for it. If you’re disappointed in another team member’s contributions, address the issue face to face, privately, without being accusatory. Honesty and directness are core characteristics of good leaders.
  6. Be a leader, not just a manger. Acting like a manager means displaying leadership qualities that help make everybody better. That’s not the same thing as steamrolling your colleagues or bossing your peers around.

Visualise the transition

It can be awkward when a peer gets promoted to a management position. Some team members may feel they’ve been passed over for the promotion. Others may have difficulty adjusting to new roles and new relationship dynamics.

However, these tensions are reduced when team members agree their new manager is the right person for the job. By exhibiting the leadership skills employers and team members prize in managers, you’ll pave the way for a successful transition.  Consider how you’d approach that transition with your team:

  1. Initial one-on-one meetings. A good manager will encourage honest feedback from each team member, show support for individual goals, clarify roles and expectations, and discuss how to leverage every individual’s strengths. This is also a good time to have a conversation about how the dynamics of your professional relationship will change.
  2. Tone-setting team meeting. After individual meetings, get the whole team together. Set team goals and clarify expectations about how you want the group to work together. And reiterate your commitment to honest feedback.
  3. Don’t get too far ahead. You won’t need to come up with specific action items or outline your vision for the team until you actually get the opportunity to manage. Know the difference between visualising a transition and undermining the leadership of your current manager. By putting yourself in a management mindset, you might find yourself empathising more with the pressures managers find themselves under.

Learn more

Want to know more about how to grow your career? Browse some past articles on the subject: How Do I Boost My Productivity—Without Overdoing It?

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