So Now You’re a Big Wig

By: Tom Mulligan
PAICR Vice President, PAICR Board of Directors member
PAICR Member since 2010

After years of hard work as an individual contributor, your contributions have been recognized and you’ve been promoted. Now you’re a manager. So what do you do?!

Recommendation #1: Delegate, Delegate, Delegate

Many inexperienced managers (and some experienced ones) fall back on what they know, which is doing the individual contributor job. After all, that’s why they were promoted, right? Because they can do the job better than anyone else, right?! Wrong. They were promoted because their knowledge of doing that job should enable them to effectively manage a group of others doing that job.

Think back to when you were an individual contributor. Did you want your boss constantly leaning over your shoulder, micro-managing everything you did? Of course not. You wanted guidance and support, but you also wanted trust and independence and even the freedom to make mistakes once in a while. After all, that’s a great way to learn. Plus, if you hadn’t been given that opportunity, how could you ever have done well enough to be promoted? So do your team a favor—provide them with guidance and support, but then let them run with it.

Not to mention that, as a manager, you will have a lot more on your plate. There will be more meetings to attend, more research to do, and more need to just think and contemplate and ponder. And, LOTS more communicating to do, which leads me to my second recommendation.

Recommendation #2: Communicate, Communicate, Communicate

I once participated in a fascinating team-building exercise that illustrated the importance of communication. There was an obstacle course with boundaries, barriers and other challenges to be overcome. (Please note, this was a business obstacle course with rags and Tupperware on the floor, not an American Ninja obstacle course with giant trampolines or climbing walls.) The object of the exercise was for the entire team to traverse the obstacle course in groups of two. One of each group of two was blindfolded, and the other served as the blindfolded individual’s guide. The two-person teams had to go through the course in a predetermined order, and there was no passing or changing the order.

So, the seeing guides would tell the blindfolded individuals things like “take two steps forward,” “turn about 45 degrees to your left,” and so on. Not surprisingly, accurate and frequent communication was critical for this.

The really interesting part, however, came when a group encountered a barrier that required a pause in the team’s progress—for example, one was “stand in place for two minutes.” At those points, the sighted individuals would tell their blindfolded counterparts something like “Okay, we just got stopped. We’re going to be standing here for a few minutes, and then I’ll let you know when we can start moving again.” Seems simple enough, right? But it wasn’t. In every case, within 15 or 20 seconds, the blindfolded individuals would start to ask things like “What’s happening? Are we ready to start moving yet?” Wait, didn’t you just tell them that they’d have to stand still for a while, and that you’d let them know when they could start going again? Yes, you did. But here is the lesson: people always crave more communication, especially from their leaders. In short, YOU CANNOT OVER-COMMUNICATE. The more you communicate, the better.

In the absence of frequent communication, people start to assume the worst. “They are all leaving without me! I’m holding up the group! My leader isn’t paying attention, we’re falling behind!” Time drags on when you don’t get updated information – 20 seconds can feel like 2 minutes, 20 minutes can feel like 2 hours, 2 weeks can feel like 2 months.

So take advantage of every chance you get to communicate – and not only with your team, but with your peer group of managers as well. Just as intra-team communication is a challenge, inter-team communication is a challenge as well.

From my experience, the more you delegate and communicate, the more successful you’ll be as a big wig.

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