In the last article, I mentioned that after your first promotion, you are either leading a small team (typically consisting of the people who used to be your colleagues, i.e. your “friends from work”), or a project team – and that there, you’d have to learn a few new tricks. This month, we’ll look a little deeper into that.
Once you are responsible for managing yourself and others – i.e. for the results of your small team, suddenly you become “them” while their “us” of comradeship no longer includes you. Your job is to put results and task orientation above relationships, and you pay the price: changed relationships, misunderstandings, lonely evenings at work after everyone is gone… Quite likely, you’ll learn the hard way that it is not easy to be liked AND be a high achiever – and that combining the two requires considerable skill and practice, which you can develop by evaluating your successes and failures, drawing unflattering conclusions and designing action steps forward- and then testing these against your expectations.
This includes actually inviting feedback on what worked, and what didn’t… As I’ll also be explaining in my factsheet “Becoming the Boss”, I highly recommend that you start building the skill of monitoring and evaluating your actions right here and now, because this dramatically accelerates your personal learning curve, and thus your professional development. Also, it only gets harder in the next stages in your career. Plus, the consequences of potential failures get more serious and expensive; they might even result in losing your job, which is hardly ever the case in the beginnings of a career.
You will also learn that other people on your team are no “human resources” but human beings who go through crises (their own and those of their loved ones), want holidays, days off, and avoid overtime just when you need them most. Sandwiched between pressures from below and above, some obvious traps and temptations lie ahead of you. These include: creating a better environment for your team members than for yourself (taking too much pressure upon yourself), micro-managing, or delegating tasks instead of responsibility…
In some lines of work, it is quite possible to not even notice this first loop. In most professional services and other expert roles like research & development, supervisors can get away with delegating tasks, and not responsibility and accountability, until mid career. For people who truly love the content of their work, this could actually be the best of all worlds: they already have some support to get routine stuff delegated, but are close enough to the subject matter to get their hands dirty when they want to. That’s just fine; when this is what you want, you should consider resisting the temptation to ever accept another promotion, for then those happy days will be over!
“Getting” the loop
So how do you notice when there is a loop you aren’t “getting”, and yet should? The following symptoms are typical side effects of pretending that nothing truly systemic has changed. These include
- You work more than ever before, and more than anyone else on the team.
- The more you work the more work you seem to have; your personal effectiveness goes down, you are at a loss what to do because there just isn’t any time…
- The people you supervise seem to behave less and less responsibly.
- You blame yourself for not achieving more, or for letting your boss down.
If you recognize the symptoms, and are undergoing considerable stress at work, don’t wait for things to improve with practice; they probably won’t. The problem is of course that you don’t have the structures in place yet to make sure that results don’t depend entirely on you. But this won’t happen ever – unless you start working on it – i.e. start doing things differently. Until then, you risk practicing the wrong things, just with less and less enthusiasm and engagement. This strategy backfires especially when the stress level goes up: then your instinct is to do even more yourself, and you may find you don’t have anything extra to throw in… So better tackle this early on!
Additional Resource: Becoming the Boss
If the above sounds like a pretty accurate description of what you are currently experiencing – or if you know someone who is – I have a little gift for you: a 5-page worksheet “Becoming the Boss” that not only goes into more detail, but gives you concrete actionable tips on the biggest challenges and opportunities. Have a quick look at the first two pages here; and email me if you’d like the full version – as always, with my compliments.
And if this isn’t where you’re at, next month’s Espresso will have us explore managing teams – so stay tuned!