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Published on September 16, 2019

Is People Management the Right Career Path for You?

Is People Management the Right Career Path for You?

Even though career paths are no longer linear, the title and position structures of many professions have not adjusted to the changing nature of work and how people are navigating their careers. In many professional jobs, it is very common to be a technical worker in your field for a number of years and then, the next natural progression would be a people management role and then a senior leadership role.

Is becoming a manager and people management actually good for you? You’re the only one that can answer this question as long as you’re prepared and know what you’ve signed up for. Do your homework. Remember there is no glory in becoming a manager. It’s actually ‘ok’ to stay in an individual contributor or technical role if that’s the work you enjoy most.

However, if you think that becoming a manager is for you, there are 3 major areas you’ll need to consider when making the shift from a technical role to people management. But first I’ll highlight common reasons why people take on promotions:

  • Satisfying the ego
  • Larger income
  • Meeting career goals
  • It’s a natural next step

Rarely do I hear the following from people when asked why they want to be a manager:

  • I want more responsibility
  • I want to deal with difficult situations
  • I want to manage performance issues
  • I want to collaborate with others to build organizational capacity
  • I want to motivate and develop others

I highly encourage you to look beyond the prestige of the job title and salary to determine if a people management role is really meant for you.

Common Challenges People Managers Face

The next step towards a leadership position may not feel natural because being a high performing technical expert requires very different skills sets than a manager.

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Shifting to a management position is one of the toughest career transitions. Here are a few reasons why:

  • Your responsibilities have increased.
  • You’ll need to manage multiple agenda and interests.
  • You’ll need to let go of former technical responsibilities and deal with conceptual ideas.
  • You need to deliver difficult messages even if you don’t agree with them.
  • You’ll need to focus on the big picture, results, and employee development.
  • You’ll need to collaborate across the company and influence without authority.
  • You’re stepping into a new social role as you are no longer a peer to former colleagues.
  • You’re expected to navigate office politics gracefully.

I’ve seen many technical staff get promoted because they’ve done a good job for a long time. However, after the promotion, many have shared their struggles and the feeling of being “out of their element.” The job was not what they expected or they weren’t ready for the transition.

Technical skills will only get you so far. Just because you’re good at your job doesn’t make you management material – yet.

Here are some questions to help you decide if a promotion to become a manager is right for you:

  • Why do you want to be a people manager?
  • What and who are doing this for?
  • What type of work is fulfilling for you? Be very specific here.
  • What are the responsibilities and expectations of the role you’re aspiring for?

And here are some challenges faced by new people managers or even experienced managers:

Understanding the Big Picture and Future Direction of the Organization

As the leader of your team, you need to ensure that you have a sound understanding of the company strategy so that the actions of your team is aligned with the direction of the company.

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Increased Organizational Visibility

With increased responsibility as a people manager, you’ll be more visible since you’ll represent your team. It’s not just about you anymore.

Identifying and Streamlining Processes

You’ll need to continuously find ways to integrate with other departments.

Thinking Outside of Your Functional Area

You’ve got to move beyond your functional area and observe the interests of other teams and the overall goals of the organization; so that you and your team can deliver results that are aligned with the company.

Collaborating Across Boundaries

To achieve company results, you need to represent your team and partner with other teams to achieve company goals.

Managing Multiple Agendas

Not only do you need to consider your own interests, but you’ll also need to be mindful of your team’s, company’s, and other stakeholders’ interests.

Influencing without Authority

Your ability to influence and persuade others is essential when navigating the company and having an impact to achieve your team’s objectives.

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Driving Accountability and Empowering Others

To achieve optimal results for the team and company, you’ll need to clearly communicate how your team will support the company strategy and motivate them to perform.

Maintain a Balance Between Driving for Results and Supporting Employee Development

In addition to all your other responsibilities, you can’t neglect the development of your employees who are doing the day-to-day work to help achieve the team’s objectives. This is where you need to have a solid handle on your own management style and understand each of your employees well. Each individual is unique and needs to be managed differently.

How to Become an Effective Manager

Key Mindset Shifts to Learn

Having highlighted the major challenges shifting from a technical role to a people manager role, there are a few mindset shifts you’ll need to make as well.[1]

1. You’re Responsible for the Successes and Failures of Your Team

With increased authority as a people manager, you also have the responsibility to use your power for good to support your team to achieve goals. This also means shouldering the failures of your team without blaming your team.

Because ultimately, you manage your team and you are part of the failures for any mismanagement of your team. Being resilient to learn more about the failures of your team can help you become a stronger manager.

2. You Represent the Team Within the Organization

When you attend meetings, build relationships and navigate the organization, remember that you represent the interests of your team.

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3. You No Longer Need to Be the Technical Expert or Need All the Details

Many managers have a challenging time letting go of the details because they were high performers in a technical role. You’ll need to trust the ability of your team to look after the daily details so that you can focus on the strategic work.

Basic Skills and Competencies of a Manager

Now that you’ve had a preview of the key responsibilities of a people manager, here are some of the skills and abilities you’ll need to develop:

  • Translate company strategy and integrate it into functional plans for your team.
  • Take different perspectives and ‘think outside the box’.
  • Manage resources, risk, and processes.
  • Identify opportunities to drive improvement and changes.
  • Build high performing teams.
  • Coach and develop employees.
  • Influence and persuade multiple stakeholders.

Advancing Your Management Skills

Here are some key areas to help improve your management skills:

Summing Up

Becoming a people manager is a challenging undertaking. You need to look inside yourself to determine if this is the right career path for you. Are you taking on increasing responsibilities that are aligned with your values and strengths? Revisit the questions at the beginning of the article to determine if this is the right move for you.

Talk to people who you believe have successfully made the transition to a management position. What were some of their challenges and how did they overcome them?

More About Management and Leadership

Featured photo credit: You X Ventures via unsplash.com

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Ami Au-Yeung

Workplace Strategist | Career Coach | Workshop Facilitator | Writer | Speaker | Past Business Professor

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Last Updated on December 3, 2019

7 Powerful Steps to Achieve Career Success

7 Powerful Steps to Achieve Career Success

I often hear people say, “I want to be successful but don’t know where to start” or “I’ve achieved career success yet I’m not happy.” And then I ask, “what does career success mean to you?” And many have a hard time articulating their response with much conviction.

It’s common that people lack clarity, focus, and direction. And when you layer on thoughts and actions that are misaligned with your values, this only adds to your misdirected quest to achieve your career success.

A word of caution. It’s going to take some time for you to think about and work on your own path for career success. You need to set aside time and be intentional about the steps you take to achieve career success. In my opinion, this step-by-step guide is apart of your life philosophy.

1. Define Career Success for Yourself

Pause. Give yourself time and space for self-reflection.

What does career success mean to you?

This is about defining your career success:

  • Not what you think you ‘should’ do
  • Not what people may think of you
  • Not adjusting to friends and family’s judgements
  • Not taking actions based on societal or community norms

“A flower does not think of competing to the flower next to it. It just blooms” – Zen Shin

When you strip away all your external influences and manage your inner critic, what are you left with? You need to define career success that best suits your life situation.

There’s no fixed answer. Everyone is different. Your answer will evolve and be impacted by life events. Here are a few examples of career success:

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  • Work-life balance
  • Opportunities for growth and advancement
  • Feeling valued that my contributions had an impact

Now even as you reflect on the examples above, the descriptions are not specific enough. You’ve got to take it deeper:

  • What do you mean by work-life balance?
  • What do you consider to be opportunities for growth and advancement?
  • How do you like to be recognized for your work? How do you know if your contributions have had an impact?

Let’s take a look at some potential responses to the questions above:

  • I want more time with my family, and less stress at work
  • I want increased responsibilities, to manage a team, a higher income, and the prestige of working at a certain level in the company
  • I’d like my immediate leader to send me a thank-you note or take me out for coffee to genuinely express her or his gratitude. I’ll know I’ve made an impact if I get feedback from my coworkers, leaders and other stakeholders.

Further questions to reflect on to help narrow the focus for the above responses:

  • What are some opportunities that can help you get traction on getting more time with your family? And decrease your stress at work?
  • What’s most important for you in the next 12 months?
  • What’s the significance of receiving others’ feedback?

Now, I’m only scratching the surface with these examples. It takes time to do the inner work and build a solid foundation.

Start this exercise by first asking what career success means to you and then ask yourself meaningful questions to help you dig deeper.

What types of themes emerge from your responses? What keywords or phrases keep coming up for you?

2. Know Your Values

Values are the principles and beliefs that guide your decisions, behaviors and actions. When you’re not aligned with your values and act in a way that conflicts with your beliefs, it’ll feel like life is a struggle.

There are simple value exercises that can help you quickly determine your core values. This one designed by Carnegie Mellon University can help you discover your top 5 values.[1]

Once you have your top 5 values keep them visible. Your brain needs reminders that these are your top values. Here are some ways to make them stick:

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  • Write them on cue cards or notes and post it in your office
  • Take a picture of your values and use it as a screensaver on your phone
  • Put the words on your fridge
  • Add the words on your vision board

Where will your value words be placed in your physical environment so that you have a constant reminder of them?

3. Define Your Short-Term and Long-Term Goals

When writing your short-term and long term life goals, use the SMART framework – Specific Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-bound. Treat this as a brainstorming exercise. Your potential and possibilities are limitless.

How you define short-term and long-term is entirely up to you. Short-term can be 30 days, 90 days, or 6 months. Maybe long-term goals are 4 months, 1 year, or 10 years.

Here are a few self-reflection questions to help you write your goals:[2]

  • What would you want to do today if you had the power to make it the way you want?
  • If no hurdles are in the way, what would you like to achieve?
  • If you have the freedom to do whatever you want, what would it be?
  • What type of impact do you want to have on people?
  • Who are the people you most admire? What is it about them or what they have that you’d want for your life or career?
  • What activities energize you? What’s one activity you most love?

Remember to revisit your core values as you refine yours goals:

  • Are your goals in or out of alignment with your core values?
  • What adjustments do you need to make to your goals? Maybe some of your goals can be deleted because they no longer align with your values.
  • How attainable are your goals? Breakdown your goals into digestible pieces.
  • Do your short-term goals move you towards attaining your long-term goals?

Get very clear and specific about your goals. Think about an archer – a person who shoots with a bow and arrows at a target. This person is laser focused on the target – the center of the bullseye. The target is your goal.

By focusing on one goal at a time and having that goal visible, you can behave and act in ways that will move you closer to your goal.

4. Determine Your Top Talents

What did you love doing as a kid? What made these moments fun? What did you have a knack for? What did you most cherish about these times? What are the common themes?

What work feels effortless? What work do you do that doesn’t seem like work? Think about work you can lose track of time doing and you don’t even feel tired of it.[3]

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What are your desires? Try it out. Experiment. Take action and start. How can you incorporate more of this type of work into your daily life?

What themes emerge from your responses? How do your responses compare to your responses from the values exercise and your goals?

What do you notice?

5. Identify ‘Feeling’ Words You Want to Experience

Do you have tendencies to use your head or heart to make decisions?

I have a very strong tendency to make rational, practical, and fact-based decisions using my head. It’s very rare for me to make decisions using my emotions. I was forced to learn how to make more intuitive decisions by listening to my gut when I was struggling with pivotal life decisions. I was forced to feel and listen to my inner voice to make decisions that feel most natural to me. This was very unfamiliar to me, however, it expanded my identity.

Review this list of Feeling Words. Use the same technique you use for the values exercise to narrow down how you want to feel.

Keep these words visible too!

Review your responses. What do you observe? What insights do you gain from these responses and those in the above steps?

6. Be Willing to Sit with Discomfort

Make career decisions aligned with your values, goals, talents and feelings. This is not for the faint hearted. It takes real work, courage and willingness to cut out the noise around you. You’ll need to sit with discomfort for a bit until you build up your muscle to hit the targets you want.

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Surround yourself with a supportive network to help you through these times.

“These pains you feel are messengers. Listen to them” – Rumi

7. Manage Your Own Career

Not to be cynical, but no one can make you happy but yourself. If you don’t take control of your career and manage it like your own business – no one will.

Discern between things that you can control and what you can’t control. For example, you may not be able to control who gets a promotion. However, you can control how you react to it and what you’ve learned about yourself in that situation.

Summing Up

For many who have gone through a career change or been impacted by life events, these steps may seem very basic. However, it’s sometimes the basics that we forget to do. The simple things and moments can edge us closer to our larger vision for ourselves.

Staying present and appreciating what you have today can sometimes help you achieve your long-term goals. For example, if you’re always talking about not having enough time and wanting work-life balance, think about what was good in your work day? Maybe you took a walk outside with your co-workers. This could be a small step to help you reframe how you can attain work-life balance.

Remember to take time for yourself. Hit pause, notice, observe and reflect to achieve career success by getting deliberate and intentional:

  1. Define Career Success for Yourself
  2. Know Your Values
  3. Define Your Short-Term and Long-Term Life and Goals
  4. Determine Your Top Talents
  5. Identify ‘Feeling’ Words You Want to Experience
  6. Be Willing to sit with Discomfort
  7. Manage Your Own Career

“When you stop chasing the wrong things you give the right things a chance to catch you.” – Lolly Daskal

Good luck and best wishes always!

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