When you’re early in your career, you’re primarily obsessed with one thing: making your work as good as it can be. In fact, you may even become so good at what you do that you become known for it. You become the person who can do X, and you do X better than anyone else in the organization. If someone needs X, they come to you. And frankly, it feels good to be known for something.
Then, something curious happens. One day, someone in the organization says, “Hey – you’re really great at doing X – you know what you should do? You should lead other people who are doing X!” And they put you in charge of the team.
It seems like a natural transition, right? But doing the work and leading the work are fundamentally different things, and there are some mindset shifts you have to make to get it right.
The main thing is that you have to shift your understanding of the value you bring to the organization.
When you were doing the work, you could point to your work and say “I made that”. Now that you’re leading other people who are doing the work, what exactly are you known for? This is a huge hurdle for many people making the transition from maker to manager, and their insecurity gets the best of them. They feel the need to step in and control the work to make sure that they’re putting their unique stamp on it. They want to make sure that the value they bring is still seen by the organization. It’s as if they’re screaming “I’m still here!”
Your job as a manager is to unleash the brilliance of your team, not to showcase your own.
But this is a big problem for the team, because when the manager steps in and tries to control the work of the team, it means that the team doesn’t have the space to develop its own skills, its own intuitions, and to take risks and try new things. Eventually, the capacity of the team shrinks to the scope of the manager’s direct involvement. Or worse, the team just takes a “wait and see” approach. In other words, the highly talented, motivated people on your team simply sit back and wait for you to tell them what to do. What a waste of capacity. And frankly, those talented people won’t stick around for long in that kind of environment.
Instead of control, you have to transition to a mindset of influence. Your job is no longer to do the work, it’s to set the rails and coach the team to be able to do the work for themselves. Yes, there will always be moments when you need to step in and help directly, but those moments will be fewer and farther between over time if you’re leading well.
So ask yourself, “is there any place in my leadership where I feel the need – maybe out of insecurity – to step in and take over for the team, and to control the work, and how might that be affecting them?”
Your job as a manager is to unleash the brilliance of your team, not to showcase your own. If you get this transition right, you will create the perfect mix of stability and challenge necessary for your team to thrive.