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Step up to the Plate: The Emotionally Intelligent Way to Transition into Management

Getting promoted into management is a distant dream for many employees, and for a sizable minority of workers, it’s something they actively seek to achieve. But for those who are invited to step into a leadership position, the transition can be more challenging than they expect. Managing, motivating, and holding others (as well as yourself) accountable are skills that rarely come naturally, but since your mission is to help your team to fulfill their potential, these skills should be top priority at least initially.

Here are some ideas on how to get yourself into the right leadership mindset, take charge of your new position, establish yourself as a high-performing leader, and build trust, respect, and empathy with your team.

Put Emotional Intelligence at the Top of the List

Emotional Intelligence is widely understood to be a key factor in engagement and performance, and you can improve upon your Emotional Intelligence Quotient (EQ) at any stage in your career. As a newly appointed manager, a focus on developing and maximizing your own Emotional Intelligence competencies is a must, together with supporting your team in doing the same. You want to head up a high-performing team, and EQ competencies are critical to success.

Your employer may already offer development programs focused on Emotional Intelligence. If so, you’re off to a good start by taking advantage of what’s on offer. If not, there are many ways you can build the necessary thinking approaches and skills on your own.

Emotional Intelligence competencies are very important in relationship-building and collaboration, both of which are must-have skills for any manager.

Commit to Your Own Learning and Development

Many companies provide leadership or management training and development programs for their current, incoming, or potential leaders. It should go without saying, but full participation in learning opportunities offered by your employer is vital; not only is it critical for you to learn how the company expects managers to perform their roles, but it is also essential to inspire confidence by taking management training seriously. Never assume that your experience of being managed means you know how to be a manager. Truly great leaders invest in their own ongoing learning and growth—in the art of leadership as well as in general.

Brush Up Your Organizational and Industry Knowledge

A manager should be an authority on their employer’s business functions, products, market, and mission, and should possess a strong understanding of their team’s purpose and responsibilities both individually and collectively.

Your team will come to you when they want information about the company, including:

  • How the business operates and is structured

  • The markets and market sectors it serves

  • What the industry trends, state of the art, and competitive landscape look like

  • The company’s mission, purpose, vision, and goals

  • The key players in each department

  • How to solve problems, get information, or navigate conflicts

Your team will also come to you for help and support in managing their interactions with people in other organizations. You’ll be much better able to fulfill this important aspect of supporting your team if you’re armed with accurate information in this regard. Make sure you understand how the relevant business processes work and that you know who you can turn to if you don’t have the answer at hand.

Hone Your Empathy and Communication Skills

Empathy is a trait that some people naturally possess, as well as an emotional intelligence competency that you can learn over time. Managers often handle critical conversations with employees and must sometimes mediate between their team members and other parts of the organization. By navigating these situations empathically, not to mention routine day-to-day business with their team, you can help to steer team members in the right direction as well as communicate on their behalf with HR, upper management, and others.

Empathy in the business world is impossible without good communication skills like active listening, seeking feedback, engaging in nonjudgmental dialogue, and learning to self-moderate. As a manager, you represent your team as well as managing and directing them.

Be Willing to Collaborate and Delegate as well as to Direct

Managers work cross-functionally with colleagues across different teams and departments, which means they must at times support other teams in achieving their goals. At times, you’ll also support individual team members in cross-functional collaboration.

In addition to cross-functional interactions, you’ll also want to avoid one of the most common mistakes many managers make, which is mishandling direction and delegation. Your job is not to take every task upon yourself, but to give clear direction, delegate effectively, trust your team, and hold them accountable as well as yourself.

Management is a Two-Pronged Position

Remember that successfully moving into management depends on being fully prepared to take on the responsibilities and challenges involved. Almost without exception, every manager is managed by someone else even as they manage and represent their team. Thus, as you assume the role of manager, you begin to lead others while still being led yourself. You will represent your company’s senior leadership in communication with your team as much as you will represent your team in communication with leaders and stakeholders outside of your team. In effect, as manager, you are your team’s advocate.

One thing to keep in mind as you settle into a new management job is that not only will you be evaluated on your own individual performance, but also your team’s overall performance—and how effective you are in maximizing it—will reflect on you over time. Emotional Intelligence skills, especially empathy, will make this aspect easier for you.

Manage Former Peers with Emotional Intelligence

Switching from peer to boss in relation to former teammates is perhaps the toughest challenge of moving onto a management role. No matter how solid and positive workplace friendships and camaraderie may be, these relationships inevitably change when one of the team gets promoted—whether this involves assuming a supervisory role of the same team or being promoted to manage a different group. While the change is not inherently negative, it’s often tough to navigate successfully. Applying an emotional intelligence-based approach to the transition can help you smooth ruffled feathers, reassure former teammates, and redefine relationships and boundaries in a positive way.

Changing Rules for Information and Disclosure

For example, a move to management means that you will have access to knowledge and information that your former peers do not, and you will generally not be able to share information in the same way as you might disclose information to your peers. Perhaps you’ll be aware that job cuts are coming or that the company is preparing for a big new product launch or press announcement. Often, developments like these are the subject of rumors or “in-confidence” disclosures between peers; you may be asked some difficult questions that require discreet, albeit honest, answers.

Tackling Performance Reviews with Former Peers

Likewise, when it comes to performance reviews or job-role reassignments with former peers, you’re in a fundamentally changed relationship where you must essentially bridge the gap between old and new rules of engagement.

Here are some tips for conducting performance reviews with your former peers:

  • The first performance evaluation of a former peer essentially sets the tone for your supervisory relationship going forward, and it’s essential to bear in mind that this is an especially critical conversation. Make sure you’re well prepared and in a positive frame of mind.

  • Focus on going forward and “wiping the slate clean” from past evaluations with the former boss.

  • Focus on what you know they do well and re-set the working relationship by building trust and confidence.

  • Going forward, don’t be afraid to hold a former peer/friend accountable when required. Many new managers of former peers avoid holding people accountable or having those tough conversations.

Nurturing the Workplace Culture

As a newly promoted manager, especially if you’re managing people who were once your direct teammates, remember that you’re now in a position of preserving and promoting the overall organizational culture. You’re tasked with driving the organization’s desired outcomes through the team you manage, and developing the people who report to you. This is a big responsibility and one that shouldn’t be taken lightly. Holding people accountable in a positive, forward-thinking way will not only gain the respect of other team members, it protects the culture or sub-culture of that team.

Seek Feedback and Ask for Input

Strong managers don’t appear magically overnight. Like trees and good wine, they mature over time, and one of the most important things you can do as a new manager is to ask for input to fuel your ongoing growth. You won’t get everything right out of the box. Don’t be afraid to seek out a mentor—and ask your own manager for feedback just as you would as an individual contributor. And, perhaps more importantly, commit to dialog with each member of your team about what they need from you. 


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