The transition from individual contributor to manager can be one of the most exciting times in anyone’s career.

It can also come with a lot of conflicting emotions.

“Holy cow, I got a promotion!” can quickly turn to “Holy cow, I got a promotion…” when you recognize that alongside all the perks (new title, a pay raise, a new office, or more), you’ll also be faced with increased responsibilities and stepping into a leadership position responsible for your team.

If you’re feeling that way, it’s important to realize you’re not alone. Everyone experiences these emotions as they transition from team player to team leader, and it can be tough to strike the right balance — especially if you don’t have formal training. There are some common pitfalls that many new leaders make, and the first step to avoiding them is knowing what they are, and what other leaders wish they knew before they made them!

Pitfall #1 - Failure to Delegate

The reason many new managers find themselves in leadership positions is because they are being rewarded for the strong work they did as independent contributors — and that’s not a bad thing! But, it does make one key leadership skill a bit more difficult — delegation.

One of the most important skills for new managers to master is the art of delegation — not just what to delegate, but when and to whom. Delegation isn’t just for efficiency. It’s also critical to keeping your team growing, engaged, and successful. And there are a lot of tradeoffs that come with that, for example, short-term results vs. building the capability of your team over the long haul and avoiding burnout. 

As an independent contributor, you control a lot more of your work output. Really, you control all of it. But as a manager, you shift to a different paradigm where your output is to get results from others. It’s a scary transition, and too many new leaders decide to deal with it through either micromanaging or just doing the work themselves. Either way, the results aren’t great. 

Even if you feel that you could do a task twice as fast as a member of your team, delegation is important so your team members can feel they are trusted and learn and grow in their skills. As a leader, you have to let go, and even let them make mistakes, in order to get your team to a place where they can do their work independently and successfully. There will be a learning curve — both for them and for you! 

A few tricks for delegating? First, pay attention to how much time you give for each task. If you aren’t comfortable trusting someone else to take on a task, start by letting go and fully handing off that task, but with a deadline that will give you enough time to bolster the work, or even completely redo it, if necessary. If that’s not possible, you should still err on the side of delegation. When in doubt, let go of more, not less. Yes, you might have to step in at times and help turn things around if they get off-track, but that’s the reality of building the skill and habit of delegation. In ideal circumstances, where both you and your team have the capacity to do the work, always let them do the work. 

Pitfall #2 - People-Pleasing

New managers often suffer from “ruinous empathy,” as Kim Scott puts it. Fans of the show friends might remember it best as “Boss Man Bing.” Of course, the other end of the spectrum, what Scott calls obnoxiously aggressive, also happens. 

But people-pleasing happens more. People want people to like them, and new managers in particular want to make their boss, their teams, and any outside stakeholders happy. But rather than saying yes to everything, leaders need to protect themselves and their team, and set priorities while acting as a filter for everything else. At the same time, saying no to too much and prioritizing your team’s comfort by not give them hard assignments, or doing too much yourself (see pitfall #1) is not good for anyone in the long term. 

There are times when you need to push people, and not just please them. But if you’re open and honest about it, explain your reasoning, and how you arrived at your decision, you will gain respect as a leader over time. 

Pitfall #3 - Indecision

As a new leader, one of the most important mindset shifts is to go from reactive to proactive. As an individual contributor, you likely received a lot of direction and were often told what to do, in what order. As a leader, you’ll be making those calls yourself.

Consider the OHIO Principle — Only Hold It Once. If you get an email, don’t read it and then wait to respond later, if possible. Looking at it again later in the day, or the following day, duplicates part of your effort to deal with the email. The same is true with decisions. If you think about it, then think about it again, then think about it again, you’re only adding more work to your already growing plate. 

This is especially true for two-way door decisions, i.e., decisions where you can reverse them later if needed. One-way door decisions, or irreversible ones, may require more time, thought, and discussion. That’s ok. But if it’s a two-door decision, make it quick. Not making decisions, or waiting to make them, allows them to accumulate and grow. If you don’t think you’ll be getting any more information in the near future that would potentially change your mind, just choose. 

Pitfall #4 - Lack of Communication

Effective leadership depends on clear and effective communication, whether you're making requests or providing feedback. This skill is foundational and it can build trust, foster collaboration, and create an environment of psychological safety. For instance, effective delegation requires you to specify who, what, when, where, why, and how for each task you assign. Some requests, naturally, will require more specificity than others.

Clarity in communication is also critical to creating a healthy feedback culture. It's tempting for managers to shy away from giving feedback or to resort to inauthentic praise to soften the impact of necessary, straightforward critiques. It is important to balance constructive feedback with genuine recognition of good performance, but your approach should avoid empty praise and, instead, focus on sincerely acknowledging a team member’s efforts. Being genuine and thoughtful in your feedback ensures that your team feels valued, paving the way for open dialogue about how each can all grow and improve.

Pitfall #5 - Being Too Self-Reliant

This is similar to pitfall #1, but different enough to deserve its own category. It’s more about managing up than down, and leaders fall into this pitfall when they fail to admit when they don’t know something or aren’t honest about when they need help and guidance. 

New managers, in particular, need to seek out mentors and coaches right away. While you shouldn’t be so vulnerable that you appear incompetent, you should find people you trust who can help in the areas you may be lacking skills and expertise. Build relationships and a network that you can rely on to help you avoid other, less general pitfalls that may be particularly important in your role or organization. It’s okay not to know some things, and to accomplish your goals it’s important to recognize when you need help. 

Are you an independent contributor who is considering moving up, and want more help avoiding these pitfalls? Or a new manager, and some of these situations sound familiar? At Lead Belay, we can help you build the skills you need to avoid these and other management pitfalls and thrive in your role. 

Reach out to a member of our team today to discuss our skills assessment, and see for yourself how Lead Belay can help!

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