You’ve made it. You got that promotion you wanted, and now you’re a manager. You have the authority to do things your way, and you finally have a say in running the company. It’s exactly what you wanted, so why is there’s this nagging feeling that something isn’t quite right?
You never pictured it like this. It feels a bit lonely. How about your former peers — they congratulated you on your promotion, but did they really mean it? There’s some resentment you can sense in Jack’s eyes. Judy isn’t as relaxed around you as she used to be. They’ll be going to lunch soon — are you still OK to join? Or should you lunch with the higher-ups, or with the other managers? What’s the protocol. You never thought about this before. It was work, all work, just work, all the operational excellence and that sort of shit. And now you’re worried about lunch. WHAT’S THE PROTOCOL?!
Welcome to the Impostor Party. The good news is, we’ve all been there. The bad news is, you have to find your way out of it. For this, it’s best to dig deeper. Never mind your imagination; focus on the facts. Think about the stuff you can influence. Think about your role, responsibility, and your mission.
Keep calm and manage people.
My suggestion is to sit down and think things through. If you feel anxiety and doubt, write them down. Or talk them through with someone. See what’s behind. With me, it was fear. Fear of failing myself, the people who promoted me, my team, my family, my nation, my God.
So I wrote down all my doubts and fears, and it turned out they had nothing to do with reality. However, because I did that early in the mornings, I was able to show up to work with an open mind. And then I spent the time there doing the things that managers are supposed to do — managing. I chalked out plans, gathered inputs, reached out to people, and stayed vulnerable.
Every first-time manager considers their situation different, unique, and that no single human being had been there before. They were. Millions. You’re not the single special snowflake like your mother told you. TK (Managerial ranks statistics).
Being promoted to manage your former peers is not much different than joining a new team as their manager. You’ll feel like an intruder, and there will be some awkwardness to start with. The worst thing you can do is say, “Nothing changes.” That’s not true, because you know that the only thing that changes is everything.
You will do things your way, and you’ll try to be better than the person before you. That’s what change and progress are all about. So don’t lie. Also, be aware that people are naturally resistant to change, so don’t go to the other extreme, saying, “Everything’s going to be different from now on.” Don’t do any such PR — instead, introduce concrete plans and give people a chance to voice their opinions, concerns, and learn about them, then decide how you want to carry on.
We all know people who start with a loud proclamation and then turn out completely opposite. Like someone starting their presentation with, I will be quite direct, on-point, and done in fifteen minutes, only to find yourself bored after forty-five minutes of a lot of talking without saying much.
Even if you manage the people you’ve known for a long time, you’ll be seeing each other through different lenses now. Now you’re approving their vacation requests. The expenses. And you know all the tricks they formerly told you about. It’s awkward. Deal with it. You can — and you might have to — fire them. On the other hand, you’re only as successful as they are. You’re in the same boat.
The most challenging thing new managers face is the realization that your success is not only depending on you. When you were a salesperson, an individual contributor, your commissions and success depended on your performance. Now it’s other people’s performance. And that means you’ll have to accept that by being in charge, you’re giving up some of the control you used to have. The good news is, your performance now scales — beyond just you, and you can leave a bigger dent in the universe.
I set to write this book with some concrete advice, so here we go. These are the steps I’d recommend taking:
- assess the situation
- create 30-60-90 day goals
- build your support team
- navigate your 360° through the organization
Assess the situation
See where you are. Who’s your team, run some SWOT analysis, have 1:1s with each of them. Hear them out, let them talk. Ask open questions, such as Describe …, What are your thoughts on …, and so on. Take plenty of time for each of them.
Do the same thing with your direct superior, and if possible, even a level higher. Get their perspective and jointly define the success metrics. Be specific, set the SMART goals, then jointly confirm them with all the stakeholders. Once agreed, define on how you’ll follow and report on the progress — immediately agree on a regular check-in cadence. Block that time in the calendars.
Create your 30-60-90 day goals.
In democratic countries, new governments typically get the proverbial 100 days to settle down TK.
I recommend immediately creating your 3-months goal based on the input and discussions you had. You’ll probably have a ton of things on the list, so this is where the magic of prioritization comes in — and that’s a task every manager needs to master. I follow the rule of 3’s or the one-page rule. That’s Top 3 priorities (and no more than 3!), and/or a scorecard I can summarize on a single A4 page or slide. When you build such constraints into your thinking, it will be easier to nail things down to the basics. See what’s the most important. This makes you think and decide.
Once you have your priorities, think about what needs to happen within the next 30-, 60-, and 90-days to bring them to success or at least in the right direction.
All this thinking and planning will bring you clarity. Having three things and a single page also makes it easier to socialize your plan and tasks. People can remember and adopt that. So this is your next step — socializing your plan. Listen to the feedback, define stakeholders, get them to commit to playing along. Each of them should have their own 30-60-90, and try to encourage them to do so.
The magic in working out the plans is to build-in stakeholders, commit, and hold them accountable. Use the calendar blockers with fixed timelines for milestone check-ins. What gets measured gets done.
Build Your Support Team
You’ll need to realize that being a manager doesn’t mean you can handle everything on your own. You’ll need a support team. This can be internal or external, with the people you trust and/or the people you need. Your management peers can be a great support team, as you get to share your managerial experience, and they can help you navigate within the organization as well as push things forward. Learn to delegate stuff to other managers, so they can involve their teams. When you’re part of the organization, you shouldn’t look at peers (other managers) as your competitors, but think of them as your team-mates. Be inclusive, focus on the Company’s success. The less importance you give yourself, leaving ego outside, the better for your career. No matter where you are. Karma works — if not in the short-term, then long-term. Trust me; your life is going to be much better with playing positive.
360° through the organization
I believe that every manager should be able to navigate the entire organization. Even when you’re working for a very large corporation, with hundreds of thousands of employees, you have to understand the structure. Invest time into learning about the organization, about the business units, the leaders, who does what. You might not get to know everyone but understand the big picture. Knowing the top officers, the various leaders across the organization, and who does what can help you solicit knowledge, favors, and investments you might need for your team’s success. Having a strong and wast internal network is just as important as having a big customer list. If you want to build your career, that will happen from within, so you better have a strong internal network. It also helps you do a better job, thus making your every day more pleasant.
Later in the book, I’ll give you some tools on how to do this more intentionally.
I’ve seen wrong people getting promoted and people doing all the wrong things. A lot depends on how self-secure a person is. For me, the demonstration of bad company culture is when ass-kissers get promoted just because they nod to their managers. That’s a recipe for a toxic organization that will ultimately fail. I’ve seen that early in my career at IBM, and some of those departments failed, which resulted in complete reorganizations, rounds of layoffs, and things had to be rebuilt from scratch. An organization the size of IBM which had over 400 thousand employees at the time TK, can survive this. But a smaller company can go bankrupt. Management is important, managing is important. So keep calm and start managing.
My first management role came in early 2010s. I felt ready, and I showed up with a plan. The people who promoted me didn’t see a need to run a bunch of interviews — they saw me as a natural fit and a part of my career evolution. I didn’t disappoint them. I showed up to that first meeting prepared — completely with a slide deck, org chart, proposed changes, priorities and milestones. There were numbers on the slides, and the discussion wasn’t about IF, but WHEN.
That doesn’t mean I haven’t had the doubts. Yes, there was a lot of impostor syndrome discomfort when I started managing my former peers — especially because I was by far the youngest of them. But I took exactly the steps outlined above, and what I’m writing about in the rest of this book and it all worked out.
So my advice is to Accept the Challenge. You’re the boss now, and while it’s not about you, it is about how you do things. There’s no them anymore — you are them.
Do’s and Don’ts:
- create plans
- ask open questions, stay open-minded
- network, network, network
- be vulnerable.
- Show instead of tell.
- hide your feelings
- say everything is going to be different now
- overpromise and underdeliver
- try to pretend you’re perfect.