Can you imagine a subordinate lending a sympathetic ear to their newly promoted supervisor? Imagine it. “Well boss, I see that you’re having a difficult time adjusting to your new power. I imagine that that’s tough. I can really empathize with your difficulties. How can I help?”
Not going to happen. New project managers never get this sort of support. It’s much more common that they get grudging compliance and whispered resentments. Yet, it’s a time during which they need support more than ever.
Bookstores overflow with books on being a manager, but rarely do they discuss the difficult transition of becoming a manager.
Whether you are managing new managers or are a first time project manager, you must pay close attention to the period of transition between individual contributor and manager. Becoming a manager requires more than just learning a new set of skills; it requires a redefinition of self.
Here are two of the most common problems that plague first time managers.
“Just let me do it.”
We all learn to derive at least part of our satisfaction from feelings of competence. We develop skills that allow us to accomplish tasks, and then feel good about those achievements. We are rewarded for our competence with money, praise, and position. When rewarded with a promotion to project manager, one of the challenges is to abandon the past sources of competence for new ones.
A new manager faces the difficult job of supervising others who are developing and using the skills that the manager has spent a lifetime applying. Since new managers are often among the most capable people with those skills, they feel frustrated by trying to work with others who are not as capable as they are.
Their first impulse is to think, “get out of my way and let me do it. It’ll take longer for me to explain it to you than to do it myself.” Of course, doing this will not only alienate their staff, but will also prevent them from growing into the new role.
New managers need to diminish their dependence on old skills in favor of developing new ones.
“My new job isn’t about what I used to think it was about.”
Not only are new managers burdened with their success in their previous role, they are also burdened with their concepts of the role of manager. Individual contributors have an idea of what they think the boss’s job is. Frequently that concept is based around the idea that a supervisor’s job is to:
- Provide task direction
- Offer protection from political forces
- Represent the needs and desires of the team to senior management
Although these are all valid components of a manager’s job, they represent only a small part of the whole picture, only those parts directly related to the obvious needs of subordinates.
While each new manager brings a unique point of view to the job, it is inevitably a view that is limited by the experience of being a team member. This limited vision of the role of manager can be very difficult to dislodge. If a new manager brings very strong emotional associations with their own previous managers, they may be very dedicated to their initial ideas of the role. Some may be intent on emulating the management style of a beloved mentor. Others may find their ideas governed by avoiding behaviors of poor managers.
Regardless of the source of their initial conceptions, understanding more fully the wider role of a manager requires both abandoning preconceived notions and accepting new ones. Neither of these is easy.
It typically takes a new manager a year or more to begin to appreciate all the things that they don’t know about the new role.
New managers require patient supervisors and mentors to survive the trial of the first months in the new role. They need to be monitored and supported during what is inevitably and emotionally trying experience and they must realize that it is normal to feel stressed, confused and exhausted during the transition.
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