To Go From Employee to Manager, You Need to Adopt These 6 Attitudes

December 4, 2017

To transition from employee to manager, you need to think differently.

Research shows going from an individual contributor to a manager is one of the most difficult and stressful times in a person’s career. Why?

It’s a time where professionals have to do more than just learn new skills, like say learning Google AdWords or Photoshop. Instead, it’s a time when professionals have to completely rethink the way they work.

“You've spent your entire career trying to amass great accomplishments and achieve stellar performance,” Leadership Expert Sarah Canaday said in her LinkedIn Learning course on transitioning from employee to manager. “That's how you got the promotion, right? Unfortunately, the approach that made you successful as an individual contributor isn't necessarily going to work in a management position.”

Think about that – you’ve built a great career by thinking a certain way. Now, suddenly, your new job requires you to think completely differently. That’s a huge transition for most people, and one that’s not easy to make overnight.

Specifically, leaders need to adopt several new attitudes when approaching their daily work, Canaday said. Some of the key ones are:

    1. Set the agenda and priorities of your team, not just yourself.

The most obvious, but the most important. No longer are you setting goals and expectations for yourself – you are doing it for your team.

This sounds self-evident, but something many new managers overlook. Because they are used to only holding themselves accountable, they miss that it’s their job their whole team accountable.

You want to take control here early. Within your first few weeks on the job, you should set up regular one-on-ones with your team and have a shared calendar. You also should quickly align on key goals and milestones – the quicker you can get your entire team pushing toward one goal, the more effective your team will be.

    2. Stop doing and start delegating.

The most common challenge. Almost assuredly, there will be times where you’ll think it would be faster if you did it yourself, as opposed to assigning it to someone else, Canaday warned. And it’s probably true, as you likely are an expert in several areas.

That said, avoid the temptation. Not delegating hurts you on two fronts: first, it doesn’t allow your employees to develop, as you are micromanaging them. Second, it will suck up all your time, to the point you won’t have enough energy to do more critical tasks like strategic thinking and managing your team.

“Remember that your goal isn't to do the work yourself,” Canaday said. “It's to get the work done through others, that means investing the time to teach them what you know and how to get the job done.”

    3. Be flexible.

When you are an individual contributor, chances are over time you’ve refined a specific way of getting tasks done that’s worked well for you. And then, when you become a manager, you’ll see employees doing things in different ways than how you did it – and that can be frustrating.

“If you always insist on your way and nothing else is acceptable, you're more likely to reduce innovation, undercut (your team's) sense of independence and probably create some resentment,” Canaday said.

Of course, this doesn’t mean unlimited freedom. If someone is underperforming, you need to intervene. But, by being flexible, you’ll have a much more effective team.

    4. Be particularly mindful of how you manage your time.

Time management is critical no matter what job you have. But it becomes even more important when you are a manager.

There’s a few reasons for this. First off, there’s even more of a daily grind as a manager. If you aren’t careful, it’ll swallow up all of your time.

So you should set aside time to support your team, review performance, monitor budgets and manage your manager. It's also critical to schedule some time each week where you have no pressing tasks, where you can focus on strategic thinking.

    5. Spend more time learning the whole business.

When you're an individual contributor, you might not have attend every all-hands meeting (or paid great attention when you did). You might not read every company newsletter. You might not know or care about changes or strategies in other departments.

Once you become a manager, that needs to change. The reason is managers have to act more cross-functionally and more strategically. To do that, you need a more holistic picture of the organization, and that means learning as much as you can about all aspects of the company.

You should invest time learning more about your industry as a whole as well – what are the new innovations? What’s trending? What companies are doing it right, and what aren’t?

All of this will make you a more effective leader for a few reasons. It’ll help you form better partnerships across all of your company’s departments. It’ll help you make smarter decisions. And, by framing to your team how their actions directly affect the overall performance of the business, you’ll increase the team’s motivation.

“When you expand your view of goals to integrate the business and financial perspective, you can enhance team engagement, improve performance and strategically demonstrate your value as a leader,” Canaday said.

    6. Always remember the most important perspective of all – the customer’s.

As an individual contributor, you have a relatively narrow focus. When you become a manager, that focus becomes much broader, for all the reasons mentioned. You need to focus on your people, your cross-functional partners, your own manager and the industry as a whole.

All of that can obscure the most important perspective of all – the customer’s. Ultimately, your job is to provide the best experience for them. If you get too bogged down on internal politics or macro-trends, you could lose track of that.

This partially means customer service, which is paramount for any organization. But it also means customer trends, i.e. really understanding what’s really driving your customer to buy and the features they really care about. By keeping that in the forefront of your mind, you’ll make better decisions, while also helping focus your team.

“If we aren't paying attention to what our customers are thinking, to what they need and want over time, we might miss those signals,” Canaday said. “We can proactively make adjustments, or wait to respond, after the sales numbers crash. Knowing the customer viewpoint puts you in control.”

The takeaway

It’s ironic, in a way. Most of the things you’ve learned as an individual contributor, which got you the job of manager in the first place, won’t help you when you become a manager.

For example, you might have figured out a great system as an individual contributor and followed it rigidly. As a manager, you need to be far more open-minded, or you’ll squeeze the innovation out of your employees.

Or, as an individual contributor, you spent most of your time getting things done. That likely helped you hit big goals. As a manager, again it’s the opposite – it’s less about what you do yourself, and more what you can inspire others to do to hit even bigger goals.

All that takes a change in your attitude. The quicker you can make that switch, the more effective manager you’ll be.

*Image from Death to the Stock Photo

Want to learn more? Watch Canaday’s full LinkedIn Learning course on transitioning from individual contributor to manager today.

Other LinkedIn Learning courses you might be interested in are: