Many emotions come with becoming a new manager. Excited that you got the job. A little anxious whether you’re actually qualified to do the job. Happy about the small bump in pay. Worried about the new workload of your old duties plus your new duties…and that is the biggest first time manager mistake. Not letting go of your old responsibilities.

Let’s talk about why this happens and what to do about it.

Reasons first time managers don’t let go of old responsibilities

I’m not here to judge if you have found yourself unable to let go of your old duties after your promotion. Most people make this mistake. It’s the reason that it’s the biggest first time manager mistake.

But, I think it’s worth mentioning why this happens. Here’s a few (although not exhaustive) reasons:

  • First time managers are often promoted from their own team. As a result, it is hard to extract yourself from your old projects. Further, your ‘new team’ is now short handed now that you’ve gotten this ‘new role’. So, as the new manager you want to make sure that your team succeeds. And, this translates to you continuing to do your old job and your new job.
  • First time managers are typically selected because they have excelled at the job they held. And, why stop doing something you are rewarded for? Plus, it’s a comfortable role. You know what to do, who to call, what the challenges are. Meanwhile, being a first time manager means not knowing exactly what you’re supposed to do. Who to ask. Where to start. This premise is covered in the book: What Got You Here Won’t Get You There: How Successful People Become Even More Successful.
  • Everyone else does it. Becoming a new manager doesn’t include a handbook. While there is some training available, most first time managers use what they’ve learned from other managers. Most likely, your closest understanding of what it means to be a manager is what you’ve experienced from your own managers. And, that doesn’t make it the right way to be a manager. In fact, it’s probably how the ‘first time manager mistake’ continues in the workplace.

Overcoming the biggest first time manager mistake

Many articles on this topic will offer a variety of activities that you can do to stop being an individual contributor and start being a manager. But, the most insightful, eye opening suggestion I’ve ever seen was in The First 90 Days in Government: Critical Success Strategies for New Public Managers at All Levels

The concept offered in The First 90 days was: Promote yourself.

Now, when you hear the phrase “Promote yourself” you may be thinking that I’m talking about self-branding. And, while I’ve written about the importance of branding to your career in government, that’s not what I mean here.

What I mean is you need to mentally promote yourself into your new role. Avoiding the first time manager mistake requires changing how you see and think about yourself.

Steps to avoiding the first time manager mistake of holding on to your old duties

  1. Research what it means to be a good manager. By reading this article, it suggests to me that you’ve already started this step. But keep going. Make a list or keep track of what you learn.
  2. Decide what being a manager means to you. Narrow down your list of ‘good manager’ tips. Everyone will have advice on how to be a good manager. Myself included. With your research complete, take a look inside and decide what you want to do. What you are willing to do. And, it’s worth thinking about what you wish your own managers had done for you.
  3. Track how you spend your time. I know, I know. You’re busy. You don’t need another task. But, this is worth the upfront time. Take a look at the meetings you’re attending. Are they meetings you continue to attend as a ‘team member’? Once you’ve tracked your time for a week – reflect on whether there are tasks you are continuing from your old role and should no longer be doing. Also reflect on whether your activities match up with what you learned in Step 1 and Step 2 above.
  4. Find an accountability partner. Chances are you will attend new supervisor training offered by your agency since it’s a government mandate. While in class, keep an eye out for someone in the class that you feel comfortable with, and that seems to have a similar desire to be a good manager. Or, if you know of other new managers that have been recently promoted, suggest an informal meeting or coffee to see how they are approaching their new role. Whoever you ultimately find, ask if the two (or three) of you can hold each other accountable to sticking to manager duties – and not individual contributor duties. Someone you can bounce ideas off of.
  5. Dress the part. I cringe a little as I write this. I know that technically you can manage in the same clothes as you wore as an individual contributor. But, we are talking about changing how YOU view yourself. By consciously changing how you dress, each morning you are consciously reminding yourself that you are a manager. And, as a side benefit, people will also consciously or subconsciously begin seeing you differently. So, what does it mean to dress the part? Well, I’ve seen some people transition into a 3 piece suit. For myself, that might be a bit much. When I did this, I added a blazer to my wardrobe and dressed up my shoes.

While this concept of mentally promoting yourself seems simple, I’ll be the first one to tell you it takes time. It takes mental energy. It takes courage to step out of your comfort zone. In some ways, it could be compared to when you made the transition from being a child to being an adult. And goodness knows that was likely fraught with challenges.

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