For Superstars in Training – Part 1 – How to Become a Manager

E. Ann Hollier, Ph.D.Decision Making, Management, Self Care

An earlier blog about talent development discussed why it is so very important for leaders to develop their team. Most leaders spend very little time thinking about this. Their intentions are usually good. However, they’re so busy putting out today’s brush fire they rarely give more than a wistful thought to getting out of the brush fire business. If you want to progress professionally, odds are it’s entirely up to you. Your boss may wish you well, but good luck getting the mentoring and guidance that you need.

Professional advancement is a developmental path, with different core challenges you must master at each point along the way. The competencies you need to make the transition from individual contributor to manager are not enough to qualify you to make the leap from manager to director, and those of VPs and C-level officers are different still.

There are typical stumbling blocks that can hold you back at each point. Some pertain to changing responsibilities. Others may reflect your natural style, which creates blind spots and may run contrary to your role.  This week’s article is about the transition to manager. If you are already in a leadership role, do pass this along to your junior staff who can benefit from it most.

Individual contributors who seek to become managers must first of all show they can deliver. This may seem obvious, but many blame deficiencies in their situation – lack of time or resources, bad handoffs from colleagues, personality conflicts, poor guidance from supervisors, etc., etc., etc. – for their own poor performance. Or, they feel unappreciated and unrecognized so they just punch the clock and go through the motions. If you want more responsibility you must show a no-excuses approach to submitting high quality deliverables on time and within budget.

That said, sometimes circumstances really are stacked against you, which leads to the second key learning for making this transition, which is to solve your own problems. This isn’t school. One of the biggest lessons young professionals have to unlearn is the belief that somebody out there has the answers and will fix it for you. In the business world, often it just isn’t so.

If there is a problem holding back your performance, come up with a solution. Then implement it. Get the help you need. Get the project timeline reset with more realistic deadlines. Gather the right data and campaign for the budget or staffing you need. Learn how to partner effectively with that a**hole, even though you may not like them much. Often, doing your own problem solving means either managing expectations or getting buy-in from others who hold the power to make changes.

Which leads us to the third area you must master to become a manager. Learn to manage your boss and your colleagues. Not all leaders have titles. The essence of leadership is the ability to influence others, and ideally to do it in such a way that they think it was their idea. Different people have different natural styles and key currencies. How does satisfying your needs and priorities support your boss’s success? What are your colleagues’ hot buttons? Don’t assume that theirs are the same as yours. Watch. Listen.

There’s a fourth type of mastery that unfortunately isn’t required to be promoted to a managerial position, but IS necessary if you want to survive in it. Start operating at a managerial level. Many supervisors grant promotions on the basis of superior performance as an individual contributor and expect you to go forth and conquer. Neither of you may realize that, while your content area expertise is foundational, it isn’t enough. Watch for, and if necessary create, opportunities to oversee some well-defined challenge before taking on full-time management.

Without training and practice, there are two aspects of natural style that could become your downfall unless you consciously work on them:

Learn to delegate. A few do this naturally. For many it’s a learned behavior. How comfortable are you turning key activities over to others to do their own way? How willing are you to let subordinates make their own mistakes, knowing the team will catch and correct them before your boss or your clients see them? Most of all, how willing are you not to have your fingers in every pie?

This is where many entrepreneurs trip up. The very talents that get them through startup can make it exceedingly difficult to grow their company because they can’t get out of their own way. If you find yourself so busy that your health or personal life suffer — or if your need to be involved in every process and decision is slowing your organization down — hire a mentor to help you learn to delegate. If you determine that delegation isn’t for you, cultivate a career path as a technical expert or a solopreneur rather than run a team.

Pay attention to detail. Many people with excellent leadership potential go through a valley of death along the way. Because they’re naturally big picture people, the details don’t interest them. There’s a catch. If your emails contain misspellings or incorrect grammar, if your reports have inconsistent formatting, if your communications or your organizational plans aren’t crisp, it calls every aspect of your precision into question.

Don’t give your boss or your client any reason to doubt your diligence. If you are dyslexic or speak English as a second language, run your work past an editor before sending it on. If you have trouble keeping yourself or your team organized, find someone who can take your overarching vision and transform it into a detailed project plan with benchmarks. This is not perfectionism. Business rarely has time for “perfect.” But do understand what your boss, your clients, and your colleagues hold as the bar for high quality and ensure you’re not doing anything they perceive as careless.

If you aspire to a management position some day and don’t feel you’re getting the level of mentoring you want from your company or your boss, Contact me to see how I can help.

E. Ann Hollier, Ph.D.

E. Ann Hollier, Ph.D.
Managing Partner
The Cogent Executive LLC

Ann Hollier provides strategic consulting and performance coaching to high achieving senior executives and management teams. She specializes in change management, strategic planning and implementation, leadership development, and building world-class collaborative teams. Learn more at

E. Ann Hollier, Ph.D.For Superstars in Training – Part 1 – How to Become a Manager