How to know you’re ready to manage a team

Are you up for a promotion? Considering applying for your first management position? Imposter syndrome might be keeping you from leaping with both feet. Or, your concerns may be valid.

By no means do I think of my employees as my children, but I find common wisdom about becoming a parent can apply to becoming a first-time boss. There’s no such thing as being 100% ready or perfectly prepared. Some of it, you’ll have to learn on the job.

So how do you know if a leadership position is for you? Here are a few thoughts to consider before making your next career move.

There’s no such thing as being 100% ready or perfectly prepared. Some of it, you’ll have to learn on the job.

are you ready for leadership?

What’s your true motivation for wanting to manage people?

Although I never applied for management positions when job hunting, deep down, I knew I wanted to lead a team one day. I liked being part of early-stage planning, strategizing, and implementing plans. I liked coaching, helping others reach their goals, and having my fingers in a lot of different pies. With a bit of distance, now I can see that my mish-mash of marketing experiences were preparing me to lead a team of individuals with a diverse skillset.

Personally, what I like most about management is setting the vision, having my head above the weeds, and being able to move people all in the same direction. No day is the same because my employees’ projects are my projects and helping them overcome challenges looks a little different each time.

There are plenty of bad reasons for wanting to be a boss and misplaced motivations can lead to frustration for you and your direct reports.

What do you like about leading people? Be honest because there are plenty of bad reasons for wanting to be a boss and misplaced motivations can lead to frustration for you and your direct reports. Here are a few common reasons people pursue a promotion that might be a red flag:

“Becoming a manager makes me feel successful.”

Is your motivation the salary, the job title, the prestige, or the feeling that you’ve made it? While none of these are bad in themselves, they shouldn’t be the only motivation. They are perks. There are plenty of other ways to earn respect in your field that don’t require managing people. You could become a guest speaker, consultant, lecturer, author, or subject matter expert. If your desire to become a boss is to further your own career, you might be disappointed. So much of being a boss is helping others further theirs.

“I’m really good at my job and leading a team is the next step in my career.”

On the topic of career development, you might feel like there’s no place for you to go but up. You’ve mastered your job and there’s nobody more skilled on your team than you. Kudos if this describes your situation. In some fields, experience, skills, and talent might make you a good candidate to lead a team of specialized individuals. But sometimes being the best at your job doesn’t make you a natural-born leader. Take a hard look at the requirements of whatever management position you’re interested in. How many of these tasks are new, have nothing to do with your expertise, and will stretch and humble you? Are you ready for that challenge?

“I’m tired of other people calling the shots.”

Being the boss comes with a lot of freedom and power. But if you’re middle-management, that leash is short. You answer to your boss, to the clients, to the shareholders, to your employees, to your colleagues, and sometimes, to the market itself. If you’re looking to get out from under the thumb of a micro-managing boss, a promotion might be the trick. But keep in mind that heavy is the head that wears the crown.

There are also plenty of great reasons to want to lead

These could be any combination of:

  • You are full of ideas and love finding solutions to problems.
  • You genuinely enjoy helping and coaching others.
  • You are ready to fight for your ideas and your team.
  • You are a good listener and you have the respect of the team.
  • You have a vision for what you and your colleagues can achieve.
  • You want to make your workplace better for everyone.
  • You want to be more involved in high-level decisions.
  • You want to have a bigger impact on your company and industry.
  • You want to challenge yourself professionally and personally.

Ultimately, your motivations may be a mixed bag or even hard to pin down. Mine certainly were at first. Just make sure it’s not all driven by your ego. You might find out that management actually isn’t all you’d hoped for.

Are you task-oriented or goal-oriented?

The disappointing part of leadership for many people is the shift away from doing cool work to doing paperwork. I’m oversimplifying, but it’s true that many leadership positions are more removed from creative, hands-on work. You might feel detached since you’re no longer doing small tasks yourself, but rather participating by proxy. If you were born to create, you might miss actually getting your hands dirty. Depending on the role, the work, and your situation, you might be able to have a bit of both. This can actually be helpful to remain connected to the realities of your industry and help earn the respect of your team members as a leader who isn’t all talk.

But ultimately, your focus should be less on the tasks and more on the people, the team, and setting and achieving goals. You need to shift from a task-oriented mindset to a results-oriented view. This will give your employees more room to get their work done without unnecessary interference and for you to keep your head up and looking towards the horizon.

Take a good look at what you like doing most in a professional context. If you like being left alone to work on something day in and day out, you might not enjoy a leadership position.

How do you feel about taking one for the team?

In other words, are you able to give your team the credit when things go right and to take the blame when things go wrong? As often as possible, I try to lift up my team members and shine a light on their successes and individual contributions. I am not a gatekeeper of their talents nor do I get joy from stealing their thunder. When employees get credit for the work they’ve done, they feel seen and respected. This leads to more trust, more innovation, and better employee retention. At the end of the day, I win when they win.

When employees get credit for the work they’ve done, they feel seen and respected. This leads to more trust, more innovation, and better employee retention.

But my job is also to prevent failure. Mistakes happen and people stumble. If I’ve created an environment where small mistakes can have huge consequences, I failed to set up proper processes. In a situation where I’ve given too much responsibility to someone who needed more training, that’s on me. If I create an environment where I’m always looking to shift blame, find a scapegoat, or shame an employee, I’m a toxic manager. To build the trust needed for true innovation, I need to be the safety net. Being accountable for my mistakes, my team’s mistakes, and taking responsibility is all part of the job.

Are you committed to learning about management?

The worst thing you can do when embarking on a leadership journey is thinking you know it all. That’s why I started this blog! It’s a place to document my growth and to stay accountable in my commitment to lifelong learning. But that also means being humble enough to take advice, from above you or below, to ask for forgiveness when you screw up, and to learn about yourself and make adjustments as you grow.

The beautiful thing about leadership is that it’s no longer one-size-fits-all. We’ve evolved so much in our understanding of what personality traits make for good managers. It’s not just the loudest, most dominant types only. There are tools online to develop each person’s ability to become decisive, a better mentor, a more active listener, and a better leader.

Are you ok with the fact that sometimes you’ll have to give bad news, negative feedback, and disappointing reports?

how to know if you're management material?

Are you prepared to make the tough calls?

At the end of the day, when there is disagreement, discord, or a difficult decision, you’re the one who has to make the calls. And you won’t always be everyone’s favourite. When I was promoted to lead a team, my colleagues became my employees overnight. Before I took the job, I hadn’t even considered the possibility that I would face situations where I disappointed them, went against their recommendations, or terminated their projects. I like being liked. Deep down, don’t we all? But part of being the boss is also making those tough calls. Would you consider yourself decisive enough for that job? Are you ok with the fact that sometimes you’ll have to give bad news, negative feedback, and disappointing reports?

Have you considered other ways to lead?

After reading this post, you might feel discouraged that after all, a management position might not be what you wanted. But, there are plenty of other ways to take leadership in your job, company, and community that don’t involve the responsibilities and paperwork of a management position. You can join committees, task forces, and working groups. Perhaps become a union representative, a mentor, or a coach. Or, take on the role of an ambassador or a spokesperson. There are plenty of ways to flex your leadership muscle without a job change at all.

At the end of the day, whether or not you’re cut out for leadership doesn’t have to be black and white. I want to encourage you that the answer can be an “I think so”. You can humbly take on a leadership role all the while knowing that you have work to do before you find your stride. The best thing you can do is make sure you’re in it for the right reasons and commit to getting better every day.


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