Skills that earn promotion to manager, trip up new managers

If you are a solo performer, a.k.a. individual contributor, who has become a new manager, it’s a little like moving from single life to life as a parent. The focus shifts from individual needs to the needs of others and it’s a much steeper learning curve than anyone ever imagines.

It’s exciting for me to work with new managers because they are usually eager to learn new skills and establish themselves as leaders. They are usually skilled in their specialty and have been promoted because they achieved superior individual accomplishments. But that is exactly the thing that trips them up in their new role.

Within a few months, they are often feeling overwhelmed by their staggering To Do lists. As the pages of tasks mount, they put on a brave face and put in more hours. They try to make themselves available to all the employees, who stop by with personnel issues, questions, or just want to chat. They drag mountains of work home each night because they can’t get any of their tasks done during the day.

They want to make a good impression on their boss and their employees, so they want everyone to be happy. The problem is that they are miserable. What they are about to learn is one of the most important lessons in leadership: you need to shift your focus to leveraging others instead of doing it all yourself.

Here are some quick lessons for the new manager:

§      Delegating is not the same as dumping your work on others. This is the first mental hurdle you have to jump. People in your department want to help you get the work done. Your job is to fashion the work in ways that fit the strengths and talents of your employees.

§      Delegating work to a few trusted stars will create a stew of discontent. The stars will burn out and the under-utilized will accuse you of favoritism. Your job is to balance the work and that means challenging the skilled and helping the less skilled.

§      You are accountable for the work but that doesn’t mean you have to do it yourself. You are accountable for helping employees deliver results but you are not supposed to jump in and do it for them—which will take all the fun away. Remember how much you enjoyed the challenge of working on a project without a manager breathing down your neck?

§      Don’t think that just because a person e-mails or voice-mails a question to you that you have to answer it yourself. As an individual contributor, you were ultra careful to be responsive to everyone. You feel a loss of control when you ask someone else to respond. Nevertheless, learn to use the "Forward" function.

§      Every time you pick up your pen to add to your personal To Do list, ask yourself, "Who would be a better person to give this to?"

§      Use your electronic tools to follow up on delegated tasks. For instance, flag yourself on your electronic calendar to check with an employee on a project. When you "forward" an important issue to an employee on e-mail, ask him or her to copy you on the response.

§      Don’t be afraid to close your door or go to a quiet place to get some quiet time to work on a project or presentation. You don’t have to be available 24/7.

§      Set up one-on-one meetings with each employee, to hear about their individual projects. It puts you in a good position to coach them on problems or redirect them if needed. It also cuts down on constant interruptions.

§      Frequently ask yourself, "Is this the best use of my time right now?" Ask your employees to ask you the same question. (For example, my staff asks me that question when I’m standing at the copy machine or straightening the storeroom when they know I’m swamped with work.)

§      Talk with each employee about what his or her career interests are. If you know what their goals are, you will be able to delegate work that will develop the skills they need to reach those goals. Delegating won’t seem like dumping, when you realize you can help employees achieve their career dreams.

Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 573-1616,, or 
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