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How to succeed after being promoted to manager

One day you’re one of the team and the next you’re leading the team. You’re excited about being promoted to manager but at the same time you’re nervous about how your colleagues are going to take the news.

The peer-to-peer dynamic that has defined your relationships to date comes to an end. Instead, you’re now in a position of authority and leadership.

The reality is, the transition from mate to manager can be a difficult one. But that’s not to say it’s an impossible one. By implementing a few simple strategies you can step forward into your new role with confidence… and bring your team along on the journey.

Acknowledge the elephant in the room

The subject of making the step from colleague to leader is not a new one for Kerry Irwin. As one of the facilitators of the Mate to Manager – The Pathway to Intentional Leadership Masterclass, she has helped countless managers transition into leadership positions. Her first piece of advice for those newly promoted as managers is to ensure that the communication to the team of their appointment is made as early as possible by their immediate manager. This then sets the scene for them to commence the conversations with their now direct reports.

“By encouraging the announcement to be made as soon as possible after your appointment to the role this then gives the team the time and space to understand the change and adjust,” says Irwin. “It’s not just about announcing your new role but also about acknowledging that there may be challenges that arise because of the relationships you already have with some or all of the team.”

It’s a mistake to think you can gloss over things and expect to sail smoothly into day one of your new job. All this does is create a level of uncertainty within the team.

In some cases, there may be an elephant in the room that you need to address – where one of your colleagues also applied for the manager role. In this case, Irwin suggests recognising the emotions and feelings attached to this. “Get it all on the table,” suggests Irwin. “Show that you see them, you hear them and you support them. Ask them how they feel and talk about what they can do to get work ready for the next opportunity that comes up. Most importantly be genuine and authentic but don’t make promises you can’t deliver on.”

Set clear expectations

All managers need to set clear expectations with their team members. However, if you’re stepping up from within the team to lead the team, this is arguably even more important.

“Each member of your team needs to have a very clear understanding of your expectations,” says Irwin. “As you meet with each of your team members you need to be candid, open and vulnerable about the need for their support. At the same time as you are setting expectations for performance, you also need to set expectations around the relationship you have with each other.

“Given your existing team relationships, you can’t be seen to have favourites within the team. If you previously went out for lunch with one of your colleagues every Friday, establish new expectations that this will cease, or alternatively, that the whole team is invited.” Expectations help you to steer your way forward into new relationships. With expectations come boundaries and a clear path from which to move forward.

Know that relationships will (and must) change

With being promoted to manager comes an inevitable and unavoidable shift in your relationships – whether you like it or not. It’s not just that the relationships will change… they must change for you to succeed.

When a manager has favourites, no matter whether they are actual or perceived, it can cause rifts within the team. Irwin asserts that there must be a level playing field across the team.

“As a manager, you first need to accept that the relationship with your friends who now report to you will change. The truth of the matter is, if resentment builds because you’re now their manager, those people were never your authentic friends in the first place. If the transition is handled well, your friends will understand and support you in your new position.

“In your one-on-one meetings with your team members, you should acknowledge that it’s a new playing field and that all relationships have changed. Tell your team that you look forward to building on your current positive relationships in your new role as their manager.” It’s very much up to you as the manager to role model the behaviour, and role model it consistently across the team. Draw a line in the sand, accept the change and embrace the new dynamics. The more open and honest you are – both with your team and with yourself – the more successful these new relationship dynamics will be.

Keep lines of communication open

You might have sensed a theme in the strategies listed so far – communication. As a manager, communication is one of the greatest tools you have at your disposal.

Open and honest communication starts from the moment your appointment to the role is announced. From then on you should communicate regularly and candidly with each member of your team.

“Acknowledge the change in relationships, talk about what this means for each individual and the team as a whole,” explains Irwin. “Communication with your team will help you to get them on board so you can start getting the results you want to achieve as a leader.

“You aren’t going to have all the answers. No one expects that of you so don’t put that pressure on yourself. The thing about this type of transformation, moving from a friend to a leader, is that each experience is unique. The managers who will struggle are those who don’t give enough thought to the challenges of making the transition and don’t keep the lines of communication open.

Kerry Irwin
Kerry Irwin

“From my experience, those who are fair and reasonable and stay true to their values are able to make the most of the transition. The ability to reflect and be sensitive to your surroundings are both qualities of good managers. These are the types of qualities you will need to draw on while you are transitioning to your new leadership role.” It’s one thing to talk about change. It’s another thing altogether for that change to actually happen. Keep the door open so your team feels comfortable to raise any issues they are having in the new world order, even weeks or months after you’ve been promoted to manager.

Recognise how your role in the team has changed

Have you ever heard of imposter syndrome? If you haven’t heard of it, you may be familiar with it. It’s that little voice inside your head telling you that you aren’t good enough, not deserving enough, not talented enough, or simply not enough for the role you’ve been given.

When you move from being a member of the team to being promoted to manager, imposter syndrome can often rear its ugly head and play havoc with your mindset.

What does that look like? Irwin explains that often new managers struggle with the idea that they are really not ready for the role. Rather than rolling up your sleeves to do the work, you are now directing how the work is done.

“This is a big adjustment for everyone. Your natural comfort zone is likely in the very hands-on space. You were an SME or an expert but that’s no longer your role. It’s so easy for you to slip back into that “doing” role where you are chipping in to get the work done.

“One thing that can help with the transition is learning to recognise when you are taking that step back into your old role. Stretch yourself out of your comfort zone and into your new role of influencing and delegating.”

“If you haven’t had great examples of leadership throughout your career, you might also struggle with how your teammates will perceive you now that you are one of “them”, a manager. Challenge yourself to embrace new models of leadership where your success is built on having strong relationships and mutual trust with your team.”

Build your support network

The last piece of advice that Irwin wants to remind you of is that you’re not alone. While the dynamics may have changed, you can still build your support network to help you navigate a successful path forward.

“Make sure you have mentors who’ve trodden this path before you. Look for experienced managers who can give you advice and guidance.”


Master the skills you need to become a better manager

Joining one of our engaging, practical, and accessible IML ANZ Masterclasses is another way you can seek the support you need after you’ve been promoted to manager. Our expert facilitators, like Kerry Irwin, will step you through the skills and strategies that you can call on as you begin your new leadership position.

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