How to Transition from Individual Contributor to Manager

— July 26, 2019

It seems like a natural progression. You’ve crushed it as an individual contributor for years so the next step is leadership, right?

Well, not necessarily. Truthfully, there’s little that’s “natural” at all about this direct transition. Odds are your expertise – the skills that made you a great individual contributor – are decidedly less valuable at a leadership level.

  • A rock star individual contributor is the vocal expert in the room. A great manager is a supportive listener.
  • An individual contributor shines by exceeding expectations. A manager shines by helping others exceed their own.
  • A superstar individual contributor crushes their targets and goals. An incredible manager spends time ensuring their team members can achieve theirs.

Great managers understand inclusivity and how to empower others. They have exemplary listening skills, know how to develop individual performance and roadmap careers. These skills don’t come naturally at all for many individual contributors and for most, are developed and fine-tuned over years of experience.

What got you here won’t get you there.

As a first-time manager, one of the prominent struggles is letting go of the workplace persona that helped you thrive as an individual contributor.

The rules of the game have changed. Your very survival is now dependent upon your ability to help others succeed. There’s less emphasis on your accomplishments and knowledge and more on your ability to deliver results through others.

As George Bradt put so well in Three Things First-Time Leaders Should Know, “we’ve all experienced first-time managers who come in with guns blazing. They think they can be successful by doing more of what they were doing before and telling others to do the same. But telling diminishes. At best people comply with the teller’s direction. More experienced managers persuade and support.”

Essentially, success is no longer about you. When transitioning into a manager role, it’s an absolute necessity that you adapt to this new reality. Failure to do so results in widespread problems both you and each of your team members.

Got what it takes? Start with these steps to gain the experience you need.

Seek out opportunities to “manage” others

Most companies simply won’t hire you into a manager position without previous management experience. Your chance of getting that manager title improves greatly if you identify opportunities to gain this experience in the role you’re currently in.

Make it known that you’d like to expand your leadership skills and begin seeking out opportunities to “manage” others. Find ways to unofficially “manage,” mentor, lead or guide people or relationships in your day-to-day.

For example, you could manage a vendor relationship in your department or an intern on your team. Look for a leadership role at a local charity or professional organization like Toastmasters. None of those sound appealing? Ask your manager about responsibilities you can take on to practice your leadership skills.

Look (and ask) for ways to build experience outside the confines of your current role and you’ll likely find a number of opportunities available.

Take on teaching roles

As a manager, you’ll fill the role of coach, mentor, guide and teacher. You’re expected to support the development of your team members by sharing all that you know and clearing paths for continued learning.

As an individual contributor, you probably didn’t have a lot of opportunities to teach others along the way. Now is your chance to develop and strengthen this essential skill set.

A great way to start is by finding a few colleagues looking to learn in an area of your expertise. For example, maybe you’re the time management queen (or king). You could offer a lunch and learn where you teach them all about your time-saving, productivity hacks. Or, volunteer to help onboard a new employee in your department. Your manager will appreciate the help and you’ll learn valuable teaching lessons along the way.

Explore leadership courses outside of work

Sidney Fuchs, President and CEO at MacAulay-Brown said, “moving from an individual contributor…to a management position is not just a step up the corporate ladder, but a jump to an entirely new ladder in terms of skills, motivations, perspectives, responsibilities, and impact to the organization.”

To make this jump, there are countless courses and tools available to help you progress. On top of learning through experience, signup for a few courses and learn from the experts. Here are a few of our free (or mostly free) favorites:

The title is just the beginning.

How to Transition from Individual Contributor to Manager

All of this experience is likely to propel you into that next step. Here, you’ve finally achieved the “manager” title and are now responsible for the success of another teammate(s). This is truly an accomplishment in your career and should be celebrated, but it doesn’t stop there.

Great managers continue seeking ways to grow throughout their entire careers. You can read all of the books and take all of the courses but there is no substitute for real-world experience. Never stop looking for ways to improve. Your teammates will be forever thankful for it.

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Author: Elle Morgan

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