Seed World

Leadership Transitions — It’s Emotional

Change, Technology, Ideas, Challenge, Community

Hopefully, in your career you will experience many promotions and opportunities for new challenges at work. For those growing in people management, there is none as important as the first transition from individual contributor to the first management role.

Sometimes the decision to take this step is self-induced. More often, an individual is asked to take a new role. Sometimes they are given development opportunities to prepare for the role change; sometimes they are thrown in head-first. Even if the decision is self-derived, even if there is preparation, the moment of decision to accept the new role comes with some hesitation.

I have had the opportunity to partner as a leadership coach with hundreds of high potential leaders as they make career transitions at multiple levels. They are all significant, but no career transition is as big of a change or as important as the first one to both the individual and the organization. Like most changes, it is not actually the ability to do the job that is the first limitation, it is the emotional resistance that we must overcome. Whether we chose the leadership role or it was chosen for us, the first barrier is inside — it’s emotional.

Consider the journey to your current role. You likely spent significant time building the skills to become perhaps the best in class at what you do (and likely a reason why you were tapped for promotion). It took a lot of dedication, and it is what you have been rewarded for doing. When you share your personal narrative, you imagine how you will continue to use your fine-tuned skills to continue to make a difference in the world around you. You understand your role and contribution in a bigger purpose.

Then seemingly out of nowhere, this request to completely upsets the balance. Do I want to move from being the best at what I do to a role where I will face completely new challenges? Am I giving up years of hard work to radically change direction? What about all those projects I’ve been working on? Who can do this as well as I do? How does being a people manager serve the larger good? What does a people manager actually do, anyway?

These questions reflect the typical emotional transition that happens with all change. Those emotions are resistance, denial … even anger. They may be more nuanced and show up as doubt, confusion and frustration. These emotions are necessary for healthy decision-making but spending too much time there impacts the ability to get off to a good start in a new role.

We are pulled through these negative emotions by a compelling vision and small, successful actions.

Be prepared. If this transition is in your future, now is the time to start getting ready. Perhaps most important is to actually learn what your own manager does and appreciate why what they do matters to you and your teammates, and to the company. With this perspective, you can begin to imagine yourself doing that role, or one like it. Slowly, then you begin to integrate their activities into a new narrative as to how you could use the role of people manager to have an even greater impact on the bigger purpose that your current work serves. Building and articulating a positive vision for the future is one of the primary means to encourage change in others and in ourselves.

Start building people management skills now. It is hard to go from being the best to being totally under-skilled. Having some experience and some skills will help you make the transition with a little more confidence. Take some classes; go to seminars; read a book; get a mentor or coach. The best way to build skills is often as a technical/project/team lead (whatever it is called in your company). In this role you lead people but they don’t report to you. Often it is split with your individual contribution role, which has its own challenges.

Have a succession plan. Nothing prevents forward progress like a vacuum behind you. Make sure that you are preparing people to take your place and take it at almost a moment’s notice. No one will replace you perfectly, but have a plan in place so that you can move on and feel good that your past work will continue in good hands. You will be less tempted to stay involved and not focus on the new role.

If you lead others who will go through this transition, now is the time for you to support them. Share the importance of being a people manager; give them learning opportunities, and help build a succession plan. And this same message applies to you as you look to the next promotion or leadership challenge.

Want to read more leadership advice? Visit:

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