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Moving up: how to consider the changes

By Geoff Cohen FIML

There you are – a hard-working team player in your thirties determined to have a successful business career. You want to leave a positive mark, your “footprints in the sand”.

With outstanding performance reviews as a technical specialist – complemented by competitive salary packages and bonuses – all your painstaking years put into studies have been rewarded in your career. Well done!

Then you learn that your team manager has moved into another more senior position. So finally, and without much notice, the chance arrives for you to step up into a managerial position and lead the team. Eager to make the most of the opportunity, you start off by getting all the training you need from your colleague. With all the necessary knowledge and expertise successfully transferred in a handover, you feel that you have landed on your feet as a new manager.

However, soon the hidden problems become apparent – your colleague tells you everything about the challenges of the job, from poor staff attitudes to the ever-demanding senior management group. For a second, you may begin to worry whether you’ve made the right decision to step into the role. Still, you are inspired to revolutionise the way things are done around here – no holding back!

Moving from star specialist to fledgling manager is probably one of the biggest challenges you will ever face because now you must manage people and your coworkers as your staff. These are people who have feelings, values and priorities that may not accord with your own. So how are you going to manage them? Should you order them around? After all, they work under your leadership.

However, what you may learn the hard way as a first-time manager is that your staff may put up with being directed by you for a while. But, if they don’t feel part of a consulted team, your best staff may quickly move on to where they will be appreciated – another team or organisation.

Autocratic behaviour is no way to be recognised as a leader. Great leaders earn a respect which makes people choose to follow them. You do not determine your success as a leader – that is something those around you will decide on. Their respect and behavioural response will provide the clues on whether they support you, or not. A wise colleague of mine once said of a new manager: “My loyalty he will have, my respect he will have to earn.”

Indeed, your welcome to management comes with a big challenge: how to instil respect for your leadership. Hopefully, you are attuned enough to know that there are no instant answers. There are many short development courses that you should certainly explore, but this must be abetted by long-term support – much of which you will get while on the job.

The most effective way of development leadership, not matter what stage of your career you’re in, is this: have good ‘soft skills’ – for example, listening, communicating and empathy – and marry them with the ‘hard skills’ that landed you the management position in the first place. With a combination of these, you will have the resources to successfully set you up on your desired career path.

There are few more things worthwhile to think as a manager:

  • Cynicism is, regrettably, part of the workplace today. So, if your staff don’t already know you, will there be a degree of scepticism?
  • Have you just been brought in to shake the place up, make jobs redundant, cut back staff expenditure and budgets?
  • If your staff do know you and watched you rise to new heights, what are they thinking?
  • Maybe they feel you are just filling in until the ‘real’ manager arrives.
  • They could confide in you when you were a co-worker, but maybe not anymore.
  • Perhaps they think you’ll just be a ‘yes man’ for senior management, totally compliant.

While it might be a daunting thought that all these above situations might be a reality, it is important to remember that ultimately, learning from your experiences is necessary for development, even if the message may not be what you want to hear.

Reflecting on these experiences allows you to gain understanding of your leadership strengths and weaknesses, and often it is helpful to reflect on how you are going to manage yourself before you start managing others. It is also a good idea to find a colleague who you respect and trust to share experiences and advice, a proven strategy for professionals around the world. Nurses at hospitals put aside time at the end of a shift each day to ‘debrief’ with the next crew coming in. This process is not just about explaining the status of patients but to relieve stress by telling someone about the frustrations of the day.

Debriefing with someone regularly will improve your resilience, help you manage stress, lead staff with humility and transparency and, above all else, remain positive.

Give it a go… step up to a management role! Don’t wonder what might have been later on.

Geoff Cohen FIML Geoff Cohen FIML, a former General Manager focusing on regional business growth / major property development in NSW, works with startup business entrepreneurs and new managers.

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