Ascending the ranks at a breakneck pace has its challenges: how to overcome them without affecting the people you manage
Ascending quickly within a company is objectively a good thing: your unique blend of talent, acumen and ambition has been recognized and rewarded with a promotion. You’re great at your current job, so your supervisors assume you’ll be even better in a more advanced role with greater freedom and more responsibility. Unfortunately, climbing the ranks this way often comes with an additional duty that many people don’t prepare for: the challenge of managing others.
I’ve been in this exact situation, as have many up-and-comers who find themselves in a fast-growing company with a lot of opportunities for growth. In an environment like that, preparing your rising stars for their new roles as managers can too often be an afterthought, if it’s considered at all. This leads to a catch-22 that I call the plight of the “sacrificial lamb”: it’s one of the hardest and most important lessons I learned at a young age as an emerging leader.
A sudden promotion early on in my career thrust me into a leadership position managing a team of my former colleagues. Focused on the new tasks on my plate, I put a little thought into my leadership style—but not much. I knew what kind of leader I didn’t want to be based on differences with past managers, but I didn’t have a vision for what good management looked like for me. I was determined not to be a “micro-manager.” I remembered feeling micro-managed by past bosses and thinking they were invalidating my abilities by questioning my every move. I assumed my subordinates built just like me, and didn’t want to waste time explaining things in detail, following up or checking in to make sure they were on track.
There was one colleague with whom I was constantly miscommunicating. He would misinterpret my instructions or tackle projects the opposite way I would have approached them. I was unable to understand why he wouldn’t—or couldn’t—complete tasks to my satisfaction. I hung back, not wanting to seem too controlling, meanwhile my frustration with him grew. I missed opportunities to recognize and leverage his unique qualities and reframe his duties to best suit his strengths. We weren’t synchronized, and his work suffered for it. In the end, he was fired—not because he lacked the ability or desire to do his job well, but because I couldn’t get him there. I still feel guilty about it to this day, he was the “sacrificial lamb” of my climb up the career ladder.
This isn’t an anomaly. Sadly, it’s the norm for first-time managers: an endless cycle of recruiting, on-boarding, training, turnover, and the process begins again. What’s missing from that cycle is the “nurturing” phase that cements mentoring relationships and builds strong teams that play to the strengths of each individual.
So how do you safeguard the “sacrificial lamb” and turn him into your “golden goose” instead? It all comes down to learning four key management skills, and listening to the people on your team to guide how you apply them.
- Learn how to value the differences in each of your teammates by looking for underlying strengths that make them unique. When I switched my thinking to this worldview, I found I was able to build more diverse and dynamic teams and match each job with the perfect person who would find it especially fulfilling.
- Learn how to diagnose development levels for each individual task, and adjust your leadership style accordingly to best fit each. There’s no one-size-fits-all management tactic, and when I made flexibility my goal, I found I was better able to support my direct reports.
- Learn how to be authentic and vulnerable with your partners. It may seem uncomfortable, especially to a new leader, to reveal your weaknesses and doubts to your subordinates, but remember: you’re a human first, a teammate second and a boss third. Being open and honest will let you build deeper levels of trust, and your teammates will repay that in kind.
- Learn how to give and receive constructive feedback. Not only is it important to have impactful development conversations with the people you manage, it is also essential to find opportunities for your own growth. Welcome feedback from your team, discuss it openly, and take them up on opportunities where you can improve.
The lessons I’ve learned throughout my career have been hard-won, and each day I add new takeaways to my arsenal of skills and perspectives. My experiences and those of dozens of other top leaders across every industry helped shape our management training curriculum at Carver Peterson Consulting to ensure new and improving leaders can draw on decades of experience from day one. Contact CPC today to join one of our training sessions and learn how to become an inspirational manager.