I remember when I was first promoted from being part of a team to being a manager of a team. I spent my whole time feeling like I was winging it.
I was super pleased though. For what seemed like a long time, being a ‘manager’ was the next career move. It felt like an important step up. A career milestone.
I was proud of my new business cards. I liked having manager in my job title. I felt like I’d made real progress.
Then reality kicked in.
I had no idea what was involved in managing people. I didn’t realise how much my previous manager had protected me and my colleagues from organisational politics and pressures from other departments.
I went on a management training course.
The training was great, however it didn’t prepare me for the less obvious and perhaps more challenging aspects of being a new manager that can’t be learned in a training session. I was promoted from within a team, so I was managing some of my old colleagues (some of whom applied for the [my] managers roll and didn’t get it). Even though everyone was great and there was no obvious hard feelings it still felt difficult to adjust to this new dynamic. Drinks after work changed – now I was expected to buy the first round and then go home so the rest of the team could bond. It was no longer OK to be the last person standing on a night out.
It can be hard to ask for help
Whether you’re promoted from within an organisation or you start a new role in a new organisation, the same anxiety can take hold. The uneasy feeling that you’re winging it, that you don’t really know what you’re doing and that if you’re not careful you’ll get found out.
It’s hard to ask for help because you’re a manager now and you’re supposed to know stuff.
Also you want to step into your role and prove that you can do it. That’s why you don’t ask your manager for help for fear or appearing incompetent, inadequate or making them think they’ve made the wrong decision in appointing you. Because doubt is creeping in and you’re secretly starting to believe that they’ve made the wrong decision.
You don’t feel safe to ask your new peer group, the other managers, for help. You’re still figuring out the order of things, who you trust and who talks to who. It’s hard to ask them for help because you feel like you want to be accepted as one of them. You want them to respect you and your experience but you feel that you haven’t earned it yet, so you can’t ask them for too much help. You don’t want to be seen as the ‘new manager’ (Even though that’s not how they see you – it’s only how you see you).
You can’t ask your team (the people you manage) for help because you feel like they look to you for answers and you should have them. Plus who knew that managing people could take up take up so much time and energy? There’s hardly any time to do anything else what with one to ones, meetings about objectives and performance, forms to fill in and organisational deadlines to meet. What about the actual work, the stuff you’re good at, the things you love?
As we climb further up the conventional career ladder we often get further away from the work we love because we’re managing other people to do it.
Back to winging it
If that’s not enough all of a sudden I had to present information at meetings, talk about budgets and people actually listened, and with that comes great responsibility. What if I got something wrong?
I just wanted to enjoy my job and be good at it. I felt that in the time I was learning to step up to be a manager that I was floundering, being a fake and that I was going to get found out. Even with excellent management training I still felt like I was lost and making it up, my confidence took a nosedive and I started to doubt myself.
Does this sound familiar?
Now I work with clients in different points in their careers, and I’ve noticed that there’s some real grey areas for organisations in the development of their people.
There’s two gaps that I see time and time again; the first is when someone steps into a management role and manages people for the first time. The second is when someone takes the step from management to leadership and becomes part of a senior management team.
When people first step into a management role they often go through a management training programme but nine times out of ten they don’t have support networks they need to put the theory into practise and continue to learn and develop. Self doubt creeps in and the great management opportunity turns into an anxious nightmare. Even when people are well networked, even when they know a lot of people, the majority are still not very good at asking their networks for help. It either feels too daunting or they don’t want to be seen as incompetent or are fearful of being found out.
More senior mangers and leaders in my experience tend to see the value in networks and have more established ones, yet still find it difficult to ask for help and utilise the networks that they’ve worked so hard to build.
Whatever stage we are in our career we all need to ask for help and to help other people. We all need a cheering squad, critical friends, people to bounce ideas round with and people around us who challenge us to be the best version of ourselves.
These are the things that traditional management training doesn’t (or perhaps can’t) cover. The subtle challenges that keep you awake at night, the learning by experience and the skills that get called ‘soft’ which are essential to master to have a happy and productive working life.
These gaps are the reasons that I run the Lucidity Network. It’s a community of people to ask for help as well as coaching and training (including those critical soft skills) to help you step up in your career and enjoy the experience. For more information go here, or book a time for an informal chat on how joining the Lucidity Network can help you progress in your working life.