Becoming a manager is often seen as moving up the career ladder. It's a promotion which comes with a fatter paycheck, more responsibilities, and recognition. And in many organizations, your ability to grow in your career will hit a ceiling unless you start managing people. If you wish to be a CEO or VP someday, you’re going to need to have to start managing people.
While all that is true, actually being good at managing is understanding that management isn't about climbing the ladder. Nor is it about "rising up" to some role with bigger esteem.
It is simply about understanding that you are no longer trying to get something done by yourself. You're not an individual contributor (IC) anymore. You will have to give up execution control to individual contributors working with you. You won't get to work on the level of detail you're used to.
To an individual contributor who loves creating and getting their hands dirty, this sounds more like punishment than career growth.
"Wait, do you mean I won't be able to work on <insert IC tasks> anymore?"
If you're a first-time manager, you can often struggle to adapt to the new role.
You have to stop doing IC work and start enabling others to do theirs. It's adopting the belief that a team of people can achieve more than a single person going it alone. It is realizing that you don’t have to do everything yourself or even know how to do everything yourself, let alone be the best at everything. It's radically accepting the fact that, as a manager, your job now is to get better outcomes from a group of people working together.
But forcing yourself to change your actions usually doesn’t last very long. The moment you stop paying attention, you come back to auto-pilot mode: you're back at doing IC work — and struggling at your job again.
However, reframing your belief about what your job is can go a long way. It's not about changing your actions but about changing the belief underlying your actions.
"My job is not to get a task done, but to help my team win."
Once this belief is rewritten in your brain, you will act accordingly. Being a manager becomes a part of your identity, so you start doing manager things. Going back to your old habits is now a violation of your core beliefs.
Becoming a manager from being an IC is how you personally scale in any organization. But scaling yourself comes with a lot of trade-offs and reinvention of your core beliefs — yes, the same core beliefs that made you an excellent IC and were the reason for you being promoted!
However, once you step into the shoes of a manager, you have to reframe these core beliefs from "getting a task done" to "helping my team get tasks done."
And if you love your craft, that might be a hard trade-off to make.
As a manager, you might get brilliant ideas around execution. You might feel like doing the work yourself, or trying to convince the team to simply execute your idea the way you've envisioned it.
This is a recipe for disaster.
Remember that you have ICs working with you. You were once an IC yourself. If they aren't sold on your vision, they will feel like they're being micromanaged. No IC likes being told exactly what to do, and you know that. And yet, as someone who has recently transitioned from being an IC to being a manager, you will be prone to do just that.
But now, your job as a manager is to enable people to do their job well, not tell them what to do and how to do it.
You might feel like you can do both IC work and be a manager at the same time, by picking a project up as an IC yourself, while managing the team on other projects. Even that tends to get taxing after a point and you realize you are doing neither well.
Don’t learn this the hard way. When your team becomes four or five people, you are better off scaling back your IC responsibilities so that you can be the best manager for your people.
Moving from being an IC to a Manager needs a radical shift in frame and a critical evaluation of trade-offs.
Without this reframing, you will most likely turn into a micromanager who loves to dictate every little detail.
But your people aren't sock puppets, so don't treat them that way.