This is the first installment of a Five-part ‘New Manager Toolkit’ series focused on science-based practices that can help new leaders transition into their expanded roles successfully.
Congratulations—you’ve just been promoted to a new management position! Chances you are going to need extra help to make that transition from team member to team leader go smoothly. Many first-time managers don’t get enough support, training, or development, which causes them, their teams, and their organizations to suffer. The first-time managers feel like they’re doing a poor job or letting down their team and supervisors. Additionally, this lack of guidance along with more responsibility can be very stressful. Human resources firm Development Dimensions International found that 19 percent of US leaders polled rated being promoted as more stressful than even divorce, moving, or losing a loved one.
Even with institutional support, the first step to successfully transitioning from individual contributor (IC) to manager is the ability to manage yourself. Three skills in particular can help here:
1: Authentic Leadership Starts with Naming Your Feelings
High expectations, from others and yourself, can make simple decisions and conversations seem bigger and more stressful than they really are. Daniel Goleman, author of the seminal work Emotional Intelligence says that self-awareness is key to becoming a great leader. In Goleman’s definition, self awareness is comprised of three important elements: emotional awareness, accurate self-assessment, and self-confidence. When you are able to name what you are feeling, a switch goes off in the brain: the thinking part comes online, and the stress center calms down. With a better understanding of your internal landscape, the context and the different actions that are possible, you are much more likely to make decisions with confidence.
To build your self-awareness, keep a journal of your feelings and how you and others reacted for a week. Just a few sentences daily will be enough to see how much progress you’re making in understanding your own emotions—and you may start to see some interesting patterns. Another helpful resource we love at Wisdom Labs is The Atlas of Emotions co-developed by our Head of Emotional Awareness, Dr. Eve Ekman (and His Holiness, the Dalai Lama!).
2: Intentionally Create Resources for Social Support
The level up in role can be doubly distressing if some of your new direct reports used to be your peers and friends. In addition to navigating awkward and sometimes difficult conversations, you may get lonely because there isn’t the same social structure of support—and you can’t blow off steam like you used to because everyone is watching.
To get over this hurdle, for the first 3-6 months in the new role, enlist the help of non-work friends and mentors in navigating the social game aspect of leadership. These coffees and meals are an opportunity to take a step back, and get external perspective that can help you understand multiple points of view and keep you from feeling isolated as you settle into the “new normal” in your work relationships.
3: Make Time to Breathe (Seriously)
A CareerBuilder survey found that over a quarter of new managers polled had some version of the “imposter syndrome” and didn’t feel ready for their promotion. Add the stress of managing you and your team’s workload—it’s a recipe for overwork and burnout, just as you are getting started in the new role. This means you might feel like you’re spending a lot of time, attention, and energy on your team—while leaving yourself behind.
If you find that you’re being hard on yourself or just overwhelmed, take a moment to practice some self-compassion. We know it can be difficult in the heat of the moment to pause. First, get into the habit of acknowledging how you feel (e.g. the first skill mentioned above). Accept those feelings, rather than trying to avoid them or disconnecting from them, and be kind to yourself in these difficult moments. Christopher Gerner, co-developer of the Mindful Self-Compassion program, suggests asking yourself how you’d comfort a friend going through a stressful experience.
The Way of the Mindful Manager
What do these three skills have in common? Mindfulness. Mindfulness means paying attention, being present, and observing without judgement. We believe that taking quiet moments alone to check in with your feelings, your body, and your surroundings can help you re-center, focus, and destress, even if it’s only a for few minutes between tasks or at the end of the day. You’ll be fostering emotional awareness, self-compassion, and healthy habits that will get you and your team on the road to success.
“More Than One-Quarter of Managers Said They Weren’t Ready to Lead When They Began Managing Others, Finds New CareerBuilder Survey.” CareerBuilder.com, March 28, 2011. http://www.careerbuilder.com/share/aboutus/pressreleasesdetail.aspx?id=pr626&sd=3%2F28%2F2011&ed=12%2F31%2F2011.
Paese, Matt and Rich Wellins, Ph.D. “New Position: Big Transition: Leaders Talk About the Promise—and Pitfalls—of Promotion.”Go 3:1 (2007): 4-7. http://www.ddiworld.com/DDI/media/go-magazine/GOMagazine_Spring2007_ddi.pdf.
Goleman, Daniel. “How Emotionally Intelligent Are You?” DanielGoleman.info, April 21, 2015. http://www.danielgoleman.info/daniel-goleman-how-emotionally-intelligent-are-you/.
“Americans Waste Record-Setting 658 Million Vacation Days.” Project: Time Off, June 14, 2016. http://www.projecttimeoff.com/news/press-releases/americans-waste-record-setting-658-million-vacation-days.
Germer, Christopher. “To Recover from Failure, Try Some Self-Compassion.” Harvard Business Review, January 5, 2017. https://hbr.org/2017/01/to-recover-from-failure-try-some-self-compassion.