Oh no! I’m promoted to manager! Now what?

There are few things in the corporate world as exciting yet scary as being promoted to “manager” or “supervisor” from your previous role as a worker bee. Many employees work hard at climbing the corporate ladder, for a variety of reasons, and pulling yourself up to the first rung of being a supervisor or manager 2manager of others is heady stuff. It can easily affect your emotional and physical wellbeing and that of those around you. Here are a few lessons I share with new managers based on years of being there and getting some organizational scar tissue along the way:

1. Your employees are not your friends. This may at first seem harsh, especially when managers are promoted from within their own unit. It is indeed important to be skilled at identifying and managing conflict, mentoring others, setting clear goals and expectations, and continually engaging in two-way communication. But there is a world of difference between being “friendly” and “being friends.” There are expectations of you as the “boss” and topping the list are the interconnected aspects of fairness and trust.

2. Be prepared to be a respectful boundary spanner. You will be squeezed from the “top” and the “bottom.” Barry Oshry, author of Seeing Systems, calls managers “torn middles” in that they must simultaneously deal effectively with those they report to while also managing and leading well their direct reports. Successful new managers strike that delicate balance of being a boundary spanner between employee and senior management needs. Essential to this balancing act is personal authenticity, honesty, and empathy.

3. Avoid extremes. Some new managers, in finding their bearings, will try and be tough and demanding as a show of who is in charge. Others will try and be soft and friendly, hoping to be well liked. Neither extreme works out well. Again, fairness and consistency are the touchstones to go by.

4. It’s time to stop being who you were. I have worked with many new managers who have trouble letting go of their past responsibilities and especially specialized skillsets. This is understandable as we tend to gravitate to what we know…and being a new manager is not in that category. So instead of guiding, mentoring, and advising, some new managers can’t resist “the doing.” Which makes them micro-managers rather than manager-leaders.

5. Management and leadership go together. The notion that managers “manage” the organizational process and systems, keeping things in alignment, ensure employees are operating efficiently. and the books balanced while “leaders” think big thoughts, are visionary, and lead the charge is as outdated as my old Jeep truck. Managers today must also frequently show leadership. It’s not enough to check the boxes, create elegant flow charts, and sparkling Project Management spreadsheets. A manager of others must also show empathy, understanding, be a great communicator, and display what Daniel Goleman and others call Emotional Intelligence.

6. Stay true to yourself. It is very easy to become what we do and in the process lose who we are. I have seen too many managers over time, and often in the early days, set aside their well established personal attributes of respect, fairness, curiosity, and humility and don the darker cloak of “manager,” thinking they must model harsh and arbitrary behaviors they have never been comfortable with.

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