How to Go from Peer to Manager

promotionsignI had the luck to work on a great team supporting Microsoft Enterprise products and VMWare for a number of years in a global Enterprise environment. Through hard work and learning new leadership skills, I became the person that the team looked to for answers. I led the team in an architecture lead and mentor capacity for a number of years, but wanted more.

After discussing with my manager, he gave me more and more responsibility and mentored me. Finally the day came when I got promoted and moved into management. I had been really close with everyone on the team and developed great relationships. It was interesting to make the move, and here’s what I found when I became a manager to my peers.

90 Day Plan
Let’s get the no-brainer out of the way first. You should have a 90 day plan for your team. End of story. Just do it, but don’t lose sight of the long term goals.

I Get It, They Aren’t My Friends
The number one thing you will hear is that you can no longer be friends with your employees. As a manager, of course your relationship will change. You will now be exposed to the complexities of the team’s inter-personal relationships. As a peer, you may have only noticed your individual relationship to each of them.

The first thing you need to work through is getting comfortable delegating to your subordinates and holding them accountable. If you had a good relationship with them as a team member, this can prove to be easy. You can’t become a pushover though. That will blow up in your face. Instead, give others clear directions and use a heavy hand if necessary.

There’s certainly no reason to stop going to lunch or getting coffee with your subordinates. You will likely find it can be an excellent way to get some feedback on how you are doing.

Quick Successes (or Problems) Lead to Bonding
A great way to help your team adjust is to create a short-term project with specific goals. Since you were on the team, you should know the quick-fire projects and get (and give) your team some praise. Step back and let them work.

This should help your team do two things. First, your team will have to figure out how to work without you in the dynamic. Second, the success and quick praise helps them bond.

Our company experienced a major email outage shortly after I took over the team due to a hardware failure. Everyone on the team got involved and it was a fantastic bonding experience for everyone. It also helped me learn some new management and communication skills.

From Mentor to Manager
If you don’t gel with the rest of your team, you probably shouldn’t become their manager. As I started down the management path, I found that I had a great tool already in my toolkit to help me build good relationships. Leveraging empathy in a peer role is great and can help you gain trust and respect, especially if you use it while mentoring.

Mentoring others is a great way to ease the transition into management and can make it feel more natural for your team. Also, you can learn a myriad of skills by mentoring, both management and those related to your job. When I became manager, it was well received by the team because I had already started down the mentoring path and built respect by helping my peers.

My previous manager set aside time for both 1:1 and team meetings. I kept these meetings in place, and they turned out to be critical in the transition. Initially, I made both meetings weekly. I used these meetings to set the tone, learn about both technical and personnel issues, communicate changes, plans and ongoing issues to the team.

1:1 time was especially critical in the beginning and helped me get a better handle on what everyone was working on. This helped me prioritize, get others the help they needed to succeed, and organize the team more effectively. Beyond that, I was able to start identifying each team member’s unique personality from my new and different perspective.

I was extremely honest during the first 90 days. I didn’t pretend to know everything because, despite being on the team, I just didn’t know everything about everything  or everyone. If I saw something that didn’t look right to me, I deftly asked why things were like that and led the team in directions to make improvements.

Don’t be afraid to question what you see and give honest feedback. You are now in a position to make changes and are responsible for ensuring your team is doing the best work it can.

Find and Build a Group of Management Peers
Your management peers can help you succeed. Since you were just promoted, they will have a lot of advice that can help you navigate the complexities of management. Reach out to them with questions. It may make sense to ask someone to be your mentor. Since my previous manager was still around, I was able to leverage my relationship and get feedback on my performance.

As you build new relationships with new manager peers, be sure not to neglect your old relationships with your team!

For many, going from a team member to a team leader can be an easy way to transition to management. How you handle the transition is extremely important for both your success and your team’s. This is no time to rest on your laurels! With the same hard work and planning you used to get promoted, you will succeed.

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