I want to be a manager

I want to be a manager

Photo Credit: Christina @ wocintechchat.com

How to become a manager— thoughts for aspiring leaders


Have you thought about becoming a manager? What does it take, and how to move from your individual contributor role into a people managing role?
Being a people manager is not a goal for everyone. But for some ICs, this is an aspiration. With the right mindset and skills, you will find it interesting, challenging, and rewarding. It also comes with new responsibilities. Let’s talk about the transition from ICs to people managers.

Do it for the right reason.

You are doing it for the challenge. You want to help others and learn new skills. NOT for the money.

Let’s face it. In many companies, the pay scale for managers is higher than that for ICs. It is a situation that enterprises need to change. And it is a situation many forward-thinking companies are changing. However, the reality is transitioning to manager is being seen as a promotion rather than a job function change.

That being said, DON’T do it for the title and money.

Managers who take the position for the money tend to run into many problems and eventually fail.

Being a people manager means the focus is on PEOPLE. Many ICs transitioned to the people management tend to hold on to their old job for much longer than necessary. It is true that the first step of transitioning to the management position, you might have to be a player-coach. But very quickly, the new manager should transition out of the player-coach position and focus on people development. (For product designers, if hands-on UX work energizes you, and excites you, consider staying as an IC.)

Taking product design as an example, when managers focus on product development rather than people development, there are two main struggles.

  • Product trumps people— There is a deadline, there are many people on the product involved depend on you, the product is high profile. It will be guaranteed to take away your focus on developing people. Being a people manager means you will have to be willing to be the unsung hero behind the scene. 
  • You struggle to balance developing skills in product development and people development—It is hard to be good at everything. Being a product designer, you will need to continue developing skills in the field, same as being a people manager. There are different sets of skills you will need to focus on developing. There is only so much time in a day. Trying to be good at both will put an unrealistic strain on you. And eventually, make you unhappy and burnt out.

Therefore, DO it for helping people, learning new skills.

Being a people manager is all about working with other people and supporting their success. If that is your passion, moving into the people management position is the right move for you. 

So how do you know you are ready?

  • You are ready and willing to give up being an individual contributor — You need to shift your time and focus on being a people manager. You will need to learn new skills. Focus on how to improve your team and your reports. If you are doing a good job, your team will be praised for their success, and your reports will be celebrated for their success. You become a multiplier. This is a mindset shift.
  • You have a growth mindset — It is critical for a people manager to have a growth mindset. You have to believe you and your reports can learn new skills. As Simon Sinet pointed out: Understand the difference between finite and infinite games. There’s a lot to learn when transitioning from an IC role to a people management role. Your attitude towards embracing learning will influence your team. Your ability to push and challenge your team will elevate the team.
  • You love your job— It may sound simple. It is a job. But if you don’t enjoy your job, you will have a hard time performing at a high level. Being a people manager, you will run into a lot of new higher-level challenges that are being impacted by the macro and organization context. Sometimes, they are very emotionally challenging. You need to be resilient and choose an appropriate response. Love your job is what will get you through tough times.

How to become a manager

Most companies only want to hire people who already have experience. Making a change within the organization you work for is not simple either. So, how do we transition to a people manager role?

Make your aspiration known to others, especially your manager.

Have a discussion with your manager about your aspiration. Your managers are there to help you craft a plan to get there. They can help you develop skills; furthermore, they can assign tasks that help you develop these skills. They can also advocate for you when there is an opening within the company. 
Show you can help others.

Seek opportunities to elevate people around you

A big part of management is the ability to make others around you better. Whether through mentoring, coaching, or any other form of support, this is the multiplier mindset.

Before you become a manager, your focus is on maximizing your personal development, productivity, and efficiency. Now it is time to multiply that with the people around you. Adopting a multiplier mindset is at the core of becoming a great manager. 

Seek opportunities to mentor or coach a teammate if you are more senior in your craft. Being a manager doesn’t mean you will always be the mentor or coach to your reports. In many cases, you will be managing people more experienced than you in craft or experience. Your role as a manager is to help them grow and unblock the road for them. However, the ability to mentor and coach, essentially the ability to teach, is one of the crucial skills of a people manager.

Volunteer to help. If you see something that should be changed, then say something, and do something. You can always step up to lead a project or a team activity. Collaborate with your manager. You don’t have to be a manager to lead. Developing your leadership skill is important in transitioning to a management position. Seek stretch projects to challenge yourself.

Share your journey and success stories.

We are not talking about bragging about how awesome you are, and you are awesome; we are talking about the lessons we learned along the way. Many times, we believe if we are doing a good job, people will see it. However, it is not always the case. We don’t have to brag about everything we do, but it is important to share your learning with people. Outline your success and failure, and most importantly, your learning. 

Use your one on ones with your manager to share what you’ve achieved that is related to the goals you set with your manager. How you might have elevated your teammates.  Help your manager to document your achievements. So when there is an opportunity that opens up, your manager has the material to put your application forward. 

Share your initiatives with the team. Not just your immediate team. Try to share your learnings with more people. This will establish your leadership with the larger team. 

If being a people manager is your aspiration. Get started today.

Be a manager to make the team the best it can be.

Helping people is REWARDING.

You are not alone.

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