Transitioning from stand-alone to a leadership role? Keep these tips in mind

The leap from individual contributor to a managerial role is a big step! Something interesting happens when you climb the corporate ladder as a manager. Your technical expertise—the knowledge and skills that enabled you to excel as an excellent IT engineer—decidedly become less valuable. As you work toward becoming a leader, and once you’ve achieved that new role, you are required to learn quickly to draw upon the expertise of your team members and be a great problem solver at the same time.

Understandably, for many first-time managers accustomed to serving as the expert in their roles, letting go of this part of their workplace persona can be difficult. The failure to understand and adapt to this new reality can create a wide variety of problems for the manager and team members alike. To discuss the common speed bumps along that journey toward leadership and what all you can do to make the transition into leading a team go more smoothly, I invited my colleague, our CTO Javid Khan, for an interesting career conversation.

Rethink your role

Recognize that it’s a new job! Managers are inherently different from individual contributors because their primary focus is getting things done with and through others. At this point, it’s not so much about what you know; it’s about what you able to guide others to accomplish.

The most important shift in adopting a leader’s mindset is to realize that your team’s success is your success. So, focus on the big picture and try to uncover what your team can do to meet their weekly, quarterly, and annual goals. Invest in their knowledge by sending them to technical or subject matter training. Build a team resource library if possible.

Check the pulse

Part of your new job will be learning a consistent and effective way to manage. This skill becomes even more critical when you are operating in a “people-centric” business model of an MSP.

Spend time with every team member via weekly 1:1 to check if there are any problems, you’re not aware of. Ask questions and encourage them to offer and pursue their ideas. Your willingness to let them experiment and even stumble showcases your trust and support.

One of the best ways to encourage growth and development in your direct reports is to give regular feedback, both positive and critical. Constructive feedback benefits everyone – so it’s important that you cultivate a healthy feedback model and culture within your team. Make your feedback valuable by specifying the positive behaviors and the impact they had on results. Rinse and repeat daily.

Think more strategically

Rather than focusing on “how to do things,” you must now focus on defining “what things to do to” achieve success in your role. Make efforts to understand the big picture and how all the various pieces are interconnected. Consider why certain tasks are priorities, and how they impact the business. This will help you uncover what Javid and I talked about – “your determination to deliver to the customer.”

Drive issues to completion and train your team to solve problems, not tickets. For you, this problem-solving ability should reflect in processes, vendor strategy, and talent retention.

Be a good teacher

Fill in the role of coach, mentor, guide, and teacher. There’s a difference between cooperating with your team members and teaching them what you know. A great way to start is by finding a few team members looking to learn about an area of your expertise. If you have been praised for your customer skills in the past, offer a lunch and learn where you teach your team all about time-management and remediation hacks. As suggested by Javid – “All new managers should mentor their resources the way they wanted to be mentored.”

Keep learning

The expertise that served you so well in the past must now take a back seat to new skills focused on supporting your team members. Start by cultivating a new layer of skills that will support your growth as a manager and leader.

Transparent communication and healthy work relationships with team members is a priority for any manager. So, it only makes sense why you should focus on active listening, conflict resolution, critical thinking, and fostering psychological safety at work. Along with this, be aware of what’s going on in the IT industry and learn it even if it’s in bits and pieces to make yourself well-rounded. Javid strongly suggested that all new managers should sharpen their knowledge around Cybersecurity, Artificial Intelligence, and Business Automation – something I agree will shape the future of technology.

Final Thought: When high-performing, driven IT engineers are promoted into leadership roles, they must fundamentally change their approach to work by embracing a more agile mindset. They must focus on their well-rounded development to earn early wins and avoid some pitfalls along the way.

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