01 Nov 2022

Learning to lead

So you’ve finally nailed that promotion you’ve been waiting for. You’ve patiently crafted your technical or specialist expertise over the years and that effort has been recognised through a promotion to a management role.

Awesome – more money, more responsibility, more accountability and more influence in the business. Several weeks later you’re spending little time doing what you used to do and now spend most of your time sorting out the “people problems”. Sound familiar?

There are many upsides to being promoted to a leadership position; but, let me ask you this – how many years have you been crafting your people leadership skills to equip you for the new role?

Let’s face it – any management position can be a challenge, but it is especially difficult for people with strong specialist skills who have little or no people management experience. Business owners and leaders are often at the crux of this challenge in the first place. We promote without spending time previously to upskill talent in the areas that they will need to learn to advance their career – commonly known as “sinking or swimming”. Many businesses offer very little support to a new manager. Similarly, individuals need to take responsibility for their own career development and identify what extra skills they will need to learn before taking on management roles. Take charge of your own development and don’t wait for others to supply it to you!

When asked what key skills new managers need – I always focus on people leadership first. My rationale for this is that invariably in your career there will be times where you need to work with others – either in a management role or as a peer or subordinate. What do I mean by this? If you can learn how to have open and honest conversations with your employees this will help you in all facets of life – you will build trust and enduring relationships. If you can learn how to set standards and hold people to account, then this will serve you well in all arenas of business. If you can learn to coach and give feedback, you will become a more authentic leader (and person!). If you learn how to effectively (and properly) delegate you will allow employees to understand how their contribution impacts on results. There are oodles of skills a new manager needs to learn, but people leadership is the most critical in my mind.

Ultimately your toolkit of technical skills and expertise may not help you much in your new management role. Why? Well, because instead of just focussing on your own skills and outputs, you now have to focus on the skills and successes of your team. The biggest challenge a new manager can often face is how to change their thinking and their own behaviours. This is not a simple “flick the switch” technique and may require coaching, mentoring or development to help new manager extricate themselves from their previous roles.

If you really want to make a successful transition from technical expert to manager – here are some top tips:

Be humble and identify your skills and limitations early on. Make a list of what you need to develop to become the best manager in the business.

Resist falling into “technical mode” when you’re busy. If you ignore your new team when the going gets tough, you will quickly lose their respect and trust.

Quickly find a person you trust to help you build your people leadership skills – whether that’s a mentor, coach, course etc.

Don’t try and learn everything at once. You’re not Wonder Woman or Superman. No one expects you to jump into a new role and know everything at once. Be you and be authentic and this will pay dividends in the end.

Find a people leader you admire and ask them for their advice or insights!

By Senga Allen, Managing Director

Ph: 027 210 4214