I am not sure that many people start their working life thinking ‘I want to be a line manager’. I certainly didn’t. A rare few have really clear aspirations – “I want to be a CEO by the time I’m 35” – often driven by a desire for status and money rather than a desire to manage people. Some of those individuals we can clearly see as a future leader – they just have something about them. But most people start their career in a state of blissful ignorance, with no thought about the need to learn how to line manage others.
Like many, my first day, week, year even, was all about finding the job which would eventually become a career – which was challenging in itself. Once found, the main goal – as my parents used to tell me – was “get your head down, do your best”, in an environment called the workplace which feels as familiar as walking on the moon!
Over time you settle in, make friends, get into the routine; you’re doing a good job and start to get recognized.
And then it happens.
“Chris,” says my manager “You’ve been doing such a great job we are offering you a promotion – you are the ‘natural choice’ to lead your team.” (from Monday).
How flattering! Exhilarating even! More importantly it means a bit more money and slightly better benefits – (maybe I can buy that new car, even afford to buy my own place). Friends and family all celebrate; everyone is so proud. “You’ve done a great job, you’ve earnt this.”
More news arrives.
It turns out the new role is part of a ‘slight reorganization’ of the department (a reality of most modern businesses, especially in the current economic environment). My manager explains “you will maintain some of your current day to day job responsibilities” but as there is a bit more money to compensate, I just happily go along with the plan.
Finally it’s Monday morning – the first day of being ‘the boss’. Arriving for work in a new suit (or maybe in todays ‘smart/casual’ mode, a new pair of jeans!), it feels exciting but also slightly nerve wracking. Its like the first day at school.
Bouncing through the office doors to my desk I notice the normal banter at the start of a working day seems a little off. The people around are familiar, the same, yet everything feels a little alien.
People approach you in a slightly different way. (And the little voice inside your head starts whispering – Has something happened? What did I miss? Is it the new suit? Maybe I shouldn’t have bought the new suit after all?)
There’s a stack of overflowing files wobbling on the desk from the boss with a friendly post-it note saying “Congrats! here’s some background for your team meeting tomorrow. And all I’m thinking now is “how am I ever going to get through this?”
It starts to dawn on me- this is a whole new ball game. When I first arrived at the company there was a team eager to help me settle in and teach me the ropes. But I’m no longer on the moon – I’ve landed on Mars. A bit like having your first child, no one prepares you for this. And I don’t know who to turn to for advice on how to manage the meeting, let alone the team.
What lies ahead is going to be an interesting journey…