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Transitioning to Thrive as a First-Time Manager

Updated: Dec 8, 2022

The shift from managing ourselves to managing other people will be one of our biggest career challenges. A proper transition process is necessary to succeed as a new manager. Here is what’s at stake during this change and how to prepare yourself to be an effective leader.

Change is the only constant, and how we manage it can directly impact how well we succeed when promoting to a management role.

Each of us interacts with different types of changes in our own unique ways. We welcome some, but quail at the possibility of others. For every change that we go through, we make emotional adjustments to adapt better. These adjustments are so automatic that sometimes we are not even aware of them. This process of adapting and changing from an old status to a new one was termed ‘transition’ by William Bridges, the author and change consultant.

Take the example of a couple who just got married. Status-wise, they became partners overnight, but each needs time to internalize the change and learn what it means to be married by experiencing their new commitments and possibly raising a family. Even if they had read books or talked with friends in preparation, they will need to go on their own journey to turn theory into practice.

A new manager stepping up from the individual contributor (IC) role needs to go through the same transition process. But too often, new managers are unaware of this. Instead, eager to prove that they are worthy of the promotion, they set a measuring bar against themselves with a mental image of what an ideal manager should look like. They then frantically try to meet that standard of excellence.

This can leave us feeling inadequate and overwhelmed with disappointments.

A good transition process is critical for success

Transitioning well facilitates a solid self-awareness of who we are in our new roles. We are not robots merely performing the tasks at hand, but we bring our unique values, strengths, and experiences. Taking time to understand how best to connect who we are with what we do will give us newfound confidence.

In contrast, when we transition poorly—speeding up the process or even bypassing it—we end up reacting to the environment because we are not sure what is required of us. As a result, we either become defensive or lack confidence in our new roles. This is where befriending transition can enable us to feel secure in our new identity.

As new managers, we may feel insecure about meeting our high standards and become defensive of our work and ideas. This can result in losing opportunities to learn from other, more experienced peers. Similarly, expats who move to a new culture will risk burnout if they are not aware of the transition process.

Most of us are unaware that this internal transformation occurs. But beware, we will fail to nurture our new identity if we place unrealistic expectations to perfect the new role quickly. Managers who are unaware of this critical process discourage their direct reports from transitioning well.

How can we transition well?

Here are a few things you can do to adjust better:

  1. Acknowledge that transition is a necessary stage in the change process. Accept the limitations of your performance as you go through it. Be patient with the process and with yourself.

  2. Define what transitioning well will look like for your specific context by listing concrete goals and a specific timeline.

  3. Communicate your plan to your leader and the peers whom this will impact. Be prepared to fine-tune your list of goals and the timeline based on their input.

  4. Find allies who can observe and affirm your transformation into your new role.

It is essential to have professional support on your journey to becoming an effective manager. Schedule a complimentary session with me to find out how coaching can support you to transition well.

What were some challenges you experienced when you made similar transitions? Share with us your experience and insight.

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