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Making the Leap: From Contributor to Manager

Think about great bosses you’ve had and make a list of reasons why they were so great. Now, think of bad bosses you’ve encountered in your career and list why they fell short. As you look at each of these lists, how many of the descriptive words have anything to do with IQ, technical competency, or skill? Our guess: zero.

The reason is because we are influenced positively or negatively by how others made us feel, not how smart they are or how technically competent they are at their job. Yet, technical competence is often the first thing companies assess when deciding to promote someone.

Gallup conducted an extensive study that stated “organizations often put people in managerial roles for reasons that have nothing to do with their talent to manage.” According to the study:

The top 2 reasons people were promoted: 

  1. They were successful in a previous non-managerial role
  2. They have a lot of experience and tenure in their company or field

While these are not bad reasons to promote an individual, research also suggests that relating to employees in meaningful ways is an important skill for success in leadership. This looks different than relating to others as an individual contributor and is often overlooked during promotions.

Moving into a managerial role from an individual contributor role requires acquiring different skills and experience. If organizations do not support their managers with the leadership training and skill development necessary for the new or evolving role, a manager’s success will be limited.

Here are some common issues that can occur when transitioning to a leadership role:

Remaining in familiar, comfortable behavior. When uncomfortable in a new role, managers may fall back to doing the things they know best and stagnate–instead of embracing opportunities to grow and learn fresh leadership skills.

Micromanaging instead of supporting and empowering. In their new role, a manager is no longer the “doer” and must learn to support and empower others rather than just doing it themselves. A manager manages, which means creating the expectation for direct reports and letting them utilize their own skills to accomplish tasks and meet objectives.

Not asking for help and support. If a person is promoted for being exceptional in a previous role, it may be difficult to actively ask for help when struggling to adapt to a new role as manager. It is important to encourage managers to ask for help and ensure the organization has a process and plan in place to support changing needs.

To avoid the pitfalls that newly promoted managers can face, organizations and leaders should embrace the idea that “what got you here won’t get you there.” At Milestone Leadership, we know that making a solid investment in developing skills for new managers pays big dividends toward growing the kind of leaders worth following that will take an organization to the next level.

Think back to that list you created. What is your organization doing to ensure managers avoid unnecessary pitfalls and end up in the “great boss” column?

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