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The challenges of becoming a manager
By Susan Bowles, Special to Gannett
A friend and I were reminiscing recently about our career paths and got to talking about first promotions.

It was amazing how ugly the memories got.

"When they announced my new position," my friend said, "no one clapped."

"For me, either," I said. "Then people stopped asking me to lunch."

"And happy hour!"

What's wrong with this picture? Were we just two unlikable women being snubbed for our incompetence, our obnoxiousness or the unfair fates that conspired to get us promoted? Or was there something else at work?

Lucky for me, I'm paid to ask questions like these. After talking to a raft of career coaches, I can safely say our promotion experiences weren't unique. My friend and I weren't incompetent. We weren't unlikable. Rather, we were moving from peer to manager, and that's a hard transition to make.

"It's a tough place to go," says Terry Schaefer, principal of Rediscovery, a Baltimore-based career coaching practice. "And it's really lonely."

Why? Well, like it or not, you're not one of the gang anymore. You're now overseeing and evaluating people who used to be your professional equals. You worked beside them. You may have socialized with them. Heck, they may be good friends. And "it's very challenging to go to someone you've been to the bowling alley with or lunch with or shopping with and say, by the way, this piece of work is not up to par," says Clarice Scriber, a faculty member of the Georgetown University Leadership Coaching Program in Washington.

Yet you're probably not part of the bosses' club, either. Which means "you're sitting in limbo," Schaefer says. "You're out of one camp and trying to prove yourself to another."

So what's a newly minted manager to do?

First, stop taking it personally that nobody applauded your good fortune. Promotions stir up dicey feelings, Schaefer says. Your coworkers probably spent all that valuable clapping time trying to figure out why they weren't promoted and how your bump up the corporate ladder will affect them.

"They're used to dealing with you a certain way," says Alicia Rodriguez, principal and founder of Sophia Associates, an international executive and leadership coaching practice in Severna Park, MD. "They certainly never reported to you. It's a whole different kind of relationship."

As the new manager, it's up to you to set a tone. Meet with your staff one at a time to talk about what your new relationship is going to look like, Rodriguez says. Be upfront about your role, your responsibilities and your expectations. Deal with questions about lunches and happy hours and any concerns your former peers may have.

"It's a difficult conversation," Rodriguez admits. "A lot of people see it as losing the relationship. And what it really is is transforming the relationship."

Next, start looking at your new peer group -- those men and women who used to be your supervisors but are now your equals.

"There are so many unwritten rules in organizations that are not always apparent to you until you ascend to the next level," says Scriber, who is president and CEO of Clarity Consulting Inc. in Baltimore. Find someone you can go to and ask for help in navigating the management waters.

Finally, spend some time on yourself. Your former peers and supervisors aren't the only people who now see you differently. You may be having your own identity crisis.

"It's really hard to learn how to manage. That's a whole other skill set," Scriber says. "And it's not necessarily innate."

So ask for help. See what resources your company offers that will help you stretch into your new role. Ask for a coach. Seize the visibility your new position gives you to develop people, set direction and grow.

Above all, be kind to yourself. That discomfort you feel at being the new boss is natural, and it will pass.

"You're stepping into new territory. So I think it's normal to fell a little apprehension," Scriber says. "I would be worried if there wasn't any of that. Because you don't want to be a cocky leader."


Susan Bowles is a business journalist based in Washington, DC. She has 20 years journalism experience and has written for USA Today, USATODAY.com, the Washington Post, the St. Petersburg Times and The Palm Beach Post.



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