Nearly every new manager makes the same mistakes.
She’ll try to compete with those whom she’s supposed to be managing and try to continue being the team superstar. She’ll horde the difficult work because others on her team are “not capable” or “mess things up.” She’ll get jealous when others compliment one of her team members’ work, because she should be the one receiving the compliment. And she’ll get stressed beyond belief as she tries to do the entire team’s work by herself because “she’s the one who’s held responsible now.”
Getting promoted to manager is a weird thing. It’s actually completely different from whichever position you were promoted. It’s its own beast. You used to be a doer, and you got all those dopamine boosts from doing things well and being complimented. But now… now you just get told whenever things are going wrong. And most of the time it’s not even something you did wrong, it was those dastardly team members you’re supposed to be managing.
Whenever something is wrong, your first instinct is to jump in and fix it yourself. Because you were informed of the problem, you assume it’s yours to fix. That’s how it used to be. And you used to just fix it and move on. But not anymore. You’re going to hear about every mistake that every one of your team members made. If you try to fix all of them you’re going to quickly find yourself overwhelmed beyond belief. At first maybe it will feel good, you got promoted and promotions are supposed to be hard, so this is just how it feels, right? Wrong. You’re going to burn yourself out faster than you know it and you’re going to stunt your entire teams growth in the process and quite possibly put a big dent in your team’s chemistry if you don’t fix this and soon.
Your job used to be to write code / write drafts / other entry level work. Now your job is to strategize and work on the logic that holds the code / paper / more complex thing together, to check your team members’ work, and to learn how to work with all of those personalities that make up your team.
I know, you get it. I thought I got it too. I too read things like this, I was even lucky enough to have my supervisor point out to me that I was doing too much and not delegating enough. But it wasn’t until almost a year later when I saw someone else going through the same struggles that it finally hit me.
After my supervisor recommended I delegate more, I took his advice to heart. I started letting other people take the bigger, more critical projects. I would help them to plan the work, then do other things while they wrote the code. Once it was done I would check it, but I wasn’t good at giving constructive feedback. I was afraid of hurting people’s feelings and wasn’t sure that my feedback was even 100% correct. Well, it turns out most of the time most people aren’t 100% correct, and even if they are they are probably still not sure of it. But by kicking the can down the road and not giving better feedback, I helped accumulate a lot of technical debt and failed to help my team members grow. Later, when some of my team members interviewed at other companies, they were bewildered at what was expected of someone with their level of work experience - and that was mostly my fault for failing to push them because I wanted to be nice.
Another problem I faced was feelings of competition. I used to be in the team and now I was leading the team. In the past I received a lot of praise for my work, that’s how I managed to get promoted. But now when I saw my team members receiving praise it weirdly bit at me. I wanted that praise and to not receive it made me feel like I was slacking. Besides, I felt that I was better at the work they were doing than they were - why were they getting praised for subpar work?
This whole mindset is completely backwards. Once I became a manager, I was no longer doing my previous job. I was still in close proximity, which makes the edges of responsibility less clear cut, but in having these jealous and competitive feelings it only proved that I hadn’t realized yet what my new job was. I should’ve been delighted that my team members were receiving praise. I should have hopped on the bandwagon and praised them as well. In fact, I should have been the first to dish out praise. My team members getting praised meant that I was doing my job. They were growing and getting better. They were filling the gap that was opened when I moved out, just like I was filling the gap ahead of me, and so forth. If things keep going well, then maybe one day one of my team members will be set to get promoted to my position. And that will be great news, because that means I’ve done my job well, and it’s probably time for me to get promoted as well!
So, if you just became a manager or are about to become a manager, remember to work with your team, not against them. Remember that you have a new job, and it’s time to let someone else do your old job. And remember that you are all working together for the same goal, not competing!