I have witnessed countless people entering the role of first-time manager and fighting their first “management battles.” When I asked one of my friends what his biggest “AHA” moment was in the process of becoming a manager, he did not hesitate with an answer:

“There were actually a few “AHA” moments as I came to realize that being a team leader is in fact a tough job, the main part of which is taking care of people in a team. I did not find myself standing on a pedestal being admired for my achievements. I found myself in frantic need to learn many soft-skills that I had not needed before.”

Many new managers enter the role knowing that one of their newly acquired responsibilities is to take care of a team. But do they understand what it really takes at the time they say “yes” to leading a team?

I knew a successful project manager named Mark. He As an individual contributor, he was known for being a great problem solver and high achiever. These qualities were among those that earned him a promotion to lead a newly built team. He was clever enough to know that regular meetings with subordinates is a good thing to plan. So, he planned one-on-ones with each of his four team members on a weekly basis. However, too early and throughout the company, Mark came to be known as that guy who “always” canceled planned meetings. This reputation did not help him in his new role. And since on a few occasions Mark also cancelled the regular team meeting, his four team members started to feel truly unheard and angry. They felt their boss simply did not care.

The reason why Mark was cancelling his scheduled meetings was prosaic. Each time he cancelled, it was for stepping in to troubleshoot when some problem occurred. He was using the same pattern of behavior that had helped him to be promoted in the first place. He used to be a great trouble-shooter, and solving problems was his passion. Thus, he had often been prioritizing troubleshooting over people management. Almost too late, he realized his team was becoming frustrated and demotivated, and their performance was dropping due to his shortcomings as a leader.

Only when he started to listen to feedback from people in the team did he start to implement a different approach in these situations. He either delegated the responsibility for troubleshooting to somebody on a team, or he postponed the troubleshooting by one hour to sit down for planned meetings. Unavoidably, there still remained occasions in which he had to cancel meetings, but these decreased to the level that everybody accepted. Others showed even more understanding as he started to give reasons “why” he needed to reprioritize when a meeting was cancelled.

Each leader, even a CEO, has a small portion of individual contributor responsibilities that he/she keeps as they cannot be delegated or as they are part of a well-thought-through strategy to be a smart “hands-on” leader. But the crucial thing is to be able to differentiate those tasks from ones others can handle. It could be said that the bigger the team, the bigger the amount of delegating former individual contributor’s tasks is needed to create capacity for people management.

  1. How to do that? Think about your past week in a role of a manager and write down replies to these questions:
  2. What patterns of behavior of an individual contributor are you still trapped in?
  3. Which tasks could have been delegated?
  4. Which tasks of an individual contributor do you need to keep and why?
    • How much time did you spend on people management?
    • With how many people did you have one-on-ones being fully present?
    • How many times did you give space to your direct reports and encouraged them to ask questions?
    • How many times did you show a friendly face to your team and ask your team members how they are doing?
  5. What is the new routine or behavioral pattern you want to implement, and how will you make it become a habit or part of your management style?

I’m sure this exercise is useful also to those who have been in a people manager role already for some time, and I am curious to hear back from you in the comments below: What was your biggest “AHA”moment?