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The Toughest Job Transition You'll Ever Make

How to Successfully Transition into a People Manager Role

Nobody saw it coming, and I mean nobody. When David disintegrated in his new role as manager, he didn’t just fail, he failed spectacularly. After 12 months in the manager role his team was in open revolt – one person had already quit in frustration, and morale for everyone else was rock-bottom. What had been a high performing team was now a disaster.

Why was everyone so surprised? David had been a star performer, which is precisely why he was promoted to manager. He was the one everyone else went to when they needed something done right. As an individual contributor, he was in a league by himself. The problem was he failed to understand that what got him there was not what would help him succeed. Unfortunately, David’s story is all too common.

Leading people requires a shift in focus.

It’s tempting to hear this story and conclude David was the wrong person for the job. However, the real problem was he wasn’t prepared. David simply continued to do what he did best, get results, which led him to over-direct his team and push them aside every time they failed to move at the pace he wanted. He was a whirlwind of activity, singularly focused on accomplishing tasks with little regard for how he was impacting his team. The consequence was he lost the team along the way, and results started to suffer.

To succeed in a people manager role requires a fundamental shift in focus – from task to people. As an individual contributor, 100% of your focus is on accomplishing the task. Yes, you need to be a team player, but the point is you are primarily held accountable for how well you get results, independent of anyone else.

People managers are responsible for getting results, too. The difference is you are now responsible for getting results through other people. If you get the same result but lose your team along the way, you have failed. Sure, you can coerce the team and muscle your way to short term results. However, those results aren’t sustainable, and you’ve squandered a valuable asset (your people) in the meantime.

Start with owning the engagement of your team.

Put the engagement of your team ahead of everything else. Own it. Don’t make excuses. Stop blaming the team. Be singularly focused on preparing them for success. Engagement is the path to results. That’s why great leaders are obsessed with their people strategy.

If I had to sum up the leadership mandate in one sentence, it would be this: measure your own success by the strength of your team. Period.

Redefining how you measure your success as a leader forces you to reorder your priorities. It forces you to create time to focus on your culture and people strategy. It also leads you to reflect on what it takes to lead for engagement.

Gain clarity on what it takes to lead for engagement.

There's no shortage of advice for how to be a more effective leader. The real question is what kind of leader are you trying to be? A lack of clarity on this question can mean the difference between success and failure in getting the best from your team.

A common obstacle to sustaining culture transformation is a lack of alignment around how to lead for engagement. Team Trek starts with a model for the ideal leader --- one who models the way, influences the heart, coaches for development and is skilled at leading high performing teams and getting results. When combined with our other models, the result is a shared vision for the culture and clarity about how to effectively lead for a culture of engagement.

When you start with this level of clarity, leadership isn’t complicated. That doesn’t mean it’s easy either. The key is consistency across all five of these capacities.

Five Capacities of Highly Effective Leaders

1 - Models the Way

Start by being the change you want to see. This means working on your own attitude and behavior. Disengaged leaders produce disengaged followers. Great leaders take 100% Responsibility for themselves, including how their own behaviors impact others. They don’t blame others or make excuses for their own shortcomings. They practice humility, and they strive to model organizational values. Your credibility as a leader will rise and fall on the example you set.

2 - Influences the Heart

People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. This is why great leaders are so intentional to provide appreciation and encouragement. They lead by directing less and listening more, asking the right questions to invite the team to engage their creative problem solving skills. They see potential in others and challenge them to reach their potential. They treat others with respect. And they communicate an inspiring vision – the “why” that connects the team’s work to bigger organizational goals.

3 - Coaches Others

Great leaders are masters at communicating clear expectations and coaching to those expectations. And by the way, that includes expectations for attitude and behavior. They coach continuously and provide clear feedback to help individuals grow and reach their potential. They look for opportunities to step back so their team can step up. Just as important, when coaching isn’t working, they have the moral courage to remove non-producing members from the team because they put the mission and team first.

4 – Leads High Performing Teams

Because they put the mission and team first, they are uncompromising when it comes to the culture of the team and are masters at using the Team Trek High Performing Teams model. They refuse to tolerate poor communication and fuzzy commitments. They hold people accountable for their commitments. They communicate a clear, simple mission and are relentless about making sure everything the team is working on is aligned with the mission. They foster an environment where everyone feels heard and encourage healthy conflict to get to the best solutions.

5 – Gets Results

Finally, they get results through the team. They are masters at focusing on the right priorities and view everything through the lens of the mission. They measure results and hold people accountable for results. Never complacent, they act decisively to drive change and continuous improvement. They are astute at reading the team to ensure the right people are in the right roles to best support the organizational mission.

If you want to be an exceptional leader, master these five capacities. Never stop working on yourself. The great are never stagnant. Always learning. Continuously seeking feedback. Adjusting. Growing. It's how companies become great. And, it's how leaders become great.

Back to David. In the end he recovered well and became an exceptional leader. Once he got clarity, he went to work developing himself into the leader his team needed. The scoreboard has been taking care of itself ever since.


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