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The Big Leap from Team Member to Team Leader

Who gets promoted to their first managerial position?

First-time Managers: The Typical Pitfalls

It's all about changing perspective.


In the previous blog post, you looked at how the first-time manager (FTM) is often neglected when it comes to training and development. In this blog post, you'll start identifying some of the challenges that the FTM has.

The scenario is quite the same in most types of service organizations. Due to a promotion or an organizational shuffle, you often find yourself needing a supervisor or team leader on one of your customer-facing teams. You are busy. The position needs to be filled fast so your first reaction is to look at the team and see who you have that could jump in the role.

Who gets promoted to their first managerial position?

Often you find who you think is the right person for the job. The criteria used to evaluate this is typically the person’s performance. You pick a high-performing team member with a lot of personal drive. On top of that, you choose someone who is well organized. In short, it’s a no-nonsense person who gets the job done. The underlying implicit logic is that they will be a good example for the others to follow.

They are good at managing—themselves. But they might not necessarily have a clue about how to manage other people. In fact, often they are distinctly bad at managing other people because they are too self-focused.

First-time Managers: The Typical Pitfalls 

They are used to being successful; therefore, they are determined to also do well as FTMs.  This often means that they either drive their team colleagues too hard or they end up driving themselves too hard as they try to compensate for other people’s lack of performance. The worst of them do both. Obviously, neither works well. Team managers who have both traits often end up producing stress reactions in themselves and/or their colleagues.

They see performance as being all about excelling at certain difficult skills. Their first reaction in their new role is often to look for tools or skills that they can learn that will equip them to do a better job. I see this in virtually every workshop I conduct when I start the day by clarifying what expectations the participants have. At the top of the list at each table is nearly always about learning more tools to manage tasks better.

It's all about changing perspective.

The reality is that it's not so much a question of new tools and techniques, but more about perspectives. Evolving from a high-performing team member into a successful FTM is all about shifting perspectives.

Instead of focusing on themselves as they have been used to, they now need to understand that it's only by focusing on the success of their colleagues that they themselves will be seen as successful.

The name of the game is engagement. What the FTM needs to learn and develop more than anything else is the ability to provide an engaging environment in which their colleagues thrive.

It sounds simple when you frame it like this but it's actually quite a big shift.

The puzzling reality is that most of them are left to figure it out for themselves.

In the next blog post, you'll look at some more challenges that are typical for FTMs, as well as some ideas and tips on how you can get better at providing the support that these people need.


Further Reading: Leadership: What, Why and How

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Mike Hohnen, MBA is a coach, trainer, author and public speaker who supports leaders, managers and their teams in implementing the principles of the Service Profit Chain.

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