Posted: Sept. 22, 2021, 9 a.m.
Not all managers are born great. It takes time and energy to develop your skills, practice, and even fail. The most important thing to remember is that supervision is a relationship, and good managers build strong relationships. And you have the power to not just be a manager, but a leader. Becoming a manager is hard, and moving from an individual contributor to a manager of individual contributors comes with some specific challenges. Luckily, there are ways you can overcome the trap of being stuck in the individual contributor mindset and avoid big mistakes that often come with the manager title. These are the key challenges for new supervisors, and how you can tackle them.
1. From Contributor to Manager
First, you need to let go of your identity as an individual contributor. We oftentimes have an identity – a core sense of self – associated with things that we're good at. You have to be careful not to fall into the trap of doing those tasks as a comfort to yourself. It’s important to lean into the new identity and visibility associated with being a manager and accept the title. If you don’t, your team is going to see you as more of a team member and you’re going to have a harder time building that supervisor/supervised relationship. Your role is now helping the team succeed. It’s time to stop saying “I am a great coder” “I am a great salesperson” “I am a great whatever,” and instead focus on saying “I am a great manager of coders, of salespeople, of whatever.” Your identity is associated with developing your team and others to be great contributors.
2. You are a Boundary Spanner
As a supervisor, you are by definition a boundary spanner. You are the link between your team and management, but that also means that you are both part of the team and part of management and there are natural tensions you will have to face. There will be times that organizational needs and goals and team needs and goals are not going to fully align. As a member of both groups and the key link between them, you are going to have to figure out how to best approach those differences. On one side you need to be a champion for your team, by representing their needs to upper management. On the other side, you need to support and implement upper management’s vision even when the team might not be thrilled. Be aware that you are a part of the organizational leadership and avoid presenting information in a way that reflects negatively on the organization. Then there are those times when you have to do a little of both, represent the team, and support the organization. In these situations be open and honest with your team. Let them know you are going to do the best you can, but that you need to support the other departments as well. You also need to go in with that broader perspective in mind and be prepared to compromise. How does your role in your company align with being a boundary spanner? Look for ways that you can make sure you're supporting your team and your organization.
3. Do I Really Belong Here?
Imposter syndrome is something that first-time managers experience pretty commonly. It’s likely you feel it when you don’t know how to do everything in your new position. Studies have found up to 70% of us will feel this at some time or another, but you can get past it. First I want you to recognize that it is normal, especially for first-time managers. You probably felt comfortable with your role before getting promoted. But most people don't walk into their first supervisor position being trained on how to manage and lead. Even if you were one of the lucky ones that got some of this training you certainly aren’t an expert at it yet. When you’re feeling impostor syndrome, it’s important to share your thoughts with somebody- talk to a trusted Mentor, a friend, or a close co-worker. Oftentimes they can help you realign your thinking to the things you're doing well. A powerful way to combat impostor syndrome at the source, is to reframe your thoughts a bit, you're obviously good at some things otherwise you wouldn't be hired, so what are those things you are good at? If we focus on the things we're good at, a lot of times it can help us let go of some of those more negative thoughts.
4. Hardball vs. Softball
Too often new supervisors go to the extremes in their struggles to manage the shift in these relationships. They may play hardball and feel they need to bring the hammer down and be rigid and unemotional in following all the rules as they are written to make sure everyone knows that they are now a boss and not a friend. Some play softball and worry more about maintaining their friendships than organizational rules and goals. You don't have to do either. There is a middle ground between Hardball and Softball. The primary thing is to realize that being the boss is literally your job and that you need to keep that a priority. If you allow concerns for relationships to overshadow following the rules and doing what you should for the organization you risk being taken advantage of by your employees and losing their respect and almost guaranteed to lose your employers confidence. It is not enough to recognize that you can’t be too hard or too soft, you have to find balance through action. The easiest way to help you and your team navigate these new relationships is by explicitly setting expectations and boundaries to more effectively control the relationship. Recognize that not everybody's going to get it. You cannot make them see you differently, you can only manage yourself and your own behavior in ways that build trust.
Remember that overcoming these key challenges isn’t something that will magically become part of your tool kit overnight. They require practice to ensure they become habits. I encourage you to check out my synchronous workshop “Becoming a Manager: Steps to success for first-time supervisors”. The six-hour course is designed around leaving the day with skills that you can immediately apply to your own work and relationships making you a better supervisor, manager, and leader right away. If you are looking for personalized coaching programs centered around becoming a new manager, please visit my coaching page on Effectiveness Consultants.