July 12, 2023

Are You Ready to be a People Manager?

I'm Melissa
I'm a Career and Leadership Coach for Women in Pharma/Biotech. I've been where you are, and I help you create the career you want without working more hours or settling for good enough.
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At some point in your career the question comes up, should you move into people management? In this week’s episode, I am digging into how to know if you’re ready to move into a people management role.

This episode is going to give you the fundamental traits and skills I suggest you have before making the leap and what to do if you’re interested in being a manager and have a gap or are worried you won’t be good at it.

You’ll also hear my personal story of how I made the transition from peer to manager.

Mentioned in this episode:

  • Enrollment for the Stand Out Leader Incubator is now open. Join here.

What you’ll learn:

  • The traits and skills I suggest you have before moving into a people management role
  • How to know if you’re ready to be a people manager
  • What to do if you make the move and regret it

Work with Melissa:

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Welcome to Your Worthy Career, a podcast with me, Melissa Lawrence. I’m a career and life coach with all the corporate credit and talent development and organizational psychology. I help women like you get extraordinary results by being more you, not less. I won’t just help you have a career experience worthy of you, but I will help you build your self worth to shift what you think is possible and take the action that will create the career you’ve always wanted. Whether it’s more meaningful work you’re passionate about, making more money, getting to your next level, or being more effective as a leader. We are shattering the glass ceiling here, the one that exists for women at work and the one we put on ourselves with our doubt and inner critic. Each week you will get practical teachings grounded in neuroscience and effective career development strategies. You’ll experience deep mindset shifts and the perfect amount of woo so you can run your career with ease rather than your career running you. You were born for more and I’m going to help you get there with maybe a few dance parties along the way. Your up level begins now.

Hello and welcome to this week’s episode. cheetahs. I am so happy to be here with you today. I was looking back at the episodes of the podcast and I realized that I’ve never done a podcast episode on this topic before, the one we’re going to talk about today. There’s over 100 episodes. And so I really felt that I had talked about this. And I feel like maybe there are little hints or themes of this throughout some different episodes, but not really a full episode. I’m digging into knowing whether or not you’re ready to be a people manager. So I have a lot of episodes. I want, it looks like, to be a manager or a leader, how to navigate a new role, or even mistakes you might make when working towards a new level. But how do you really know if people management is something that you’re really ready for? It’s a big responsibility. I think it’s pretty common knowledge that managers are a key data factor when it comes to an employee’s satisfaction with the role. If you think back on your own work experience, you know that that’s true. And I coach people all the time who like their jobs and their teams, but then they struggle with their manager, and that can be enough to make them want to leave.

So it’s not a role to take on lately. It’s more than just a title for your resume and salary bump, and you know that. So you might be thinking it’s the next logical step for you, or maybe you really like the idea of being part of another person’s development and growth. Maybe there is an opportunity you’re facing, but it has direct reports and that’s a little scary and you’re not really sure you want that responsibility. Well, that is what we are going to talk about here today. So I’m going to share with you some signs that tell you that you’re ready to take on a people management role. And the first time that I managed other people was when I was about 22, and I was working in government consulting. I started with two direct reports and then over the years, managed five different sites in the state of Wisconsin with three people managers reporting to me in a span of control over really 30 or more people. Now, within the industry, I have led indirectly cross functional teams, and then I’ve also had one to two direct reports in the various roles that I’ve had in pharma.

And when I think back on the first time that I became a people manager at the ripe age of 22, I took it very seriously. And it’s really funny to think about how I was this 22 year old who started reading management books. And I remember it being really stressful at times managing different employee issues that would come up. It’s also great to have a team who collectively achieves more that’s really inspiring. But it can also be stressful when you’re meeting with your management and you are accountable for other people’s performance or lack thereof. You can’t just outwork the problems by putting in more time. You really have to manage and grow other people. It’s not just about you anymore, and that can be uncomfortable. So in my situation, I had become a manager out of necessity, which I think happens pretty regularly. I wanted to grow my career. And honestly, the power and responsibility of management was really appealing to me, but it wasn’t something that I was really working toward necessarily. It had happened because the supervisor of our team had left, and so I was the best replacement to take over because I knew the work, I knew our clients, and I was an expert in the regulations we worked with, and I could just make the transition more seamless.

So I was that subject matter expert that could just step in. And this is what happens pretty frequently. Sometimes your management role is intentional, a role you apply for, and sometimes it’s something that you do to fill in when someone leaves, especially earlier in your career, and it becomes a permanent place. Sometimes it’s not because you know how to lead, but because you have that technical expertise and you have that potential to lead. So over the years, I have managed big teams and small teams. I’ve hired brand new teams from the ground up. I have had to let people go, which was always my least favorite thing to do. I have managed someone who even transitioned from a man to a woman in the workplace. I have managed challenging employees. I have managed employees that made my job easy. And I can tell you that you can’t prepare for everything. One of my clients that I was working with one on one a while back told me that when she had moved into her management role, and so we worked on that promotion, and then we were working on her transition plan, and she really wanted to solve for every problem that could come up in advance because she wanted to always be prepared and know what to do.

And that’s something we worked on is how she could be prepared without knowing everything that was going to come up and without having a big list of a decision tree of if this happens, do this, if this happens, do this, because that’s not really needed and it’s not a good use of time. But with that said, there are some key traits or skills that I think prepare you to be an effective people manager that you can use as even signs that you’re ready to take that step or that you would do well in the role. And so if you’re looking for those, you’re in for a treat, because that is what I’m going to share with you. So let’s go ahead and get started with that. So the very first one is that you have empathy for others. So having empathy for others, having the ability to see other people’s perspectives, to care for others on a human level is a really critical trait when it comes to people management. It’s also just a fantastic trait or skill to continue to build in all of your relationships in your life. And if you have that empathy, I think that that is just going to be a foundation for you being effective as a role that is responsible for other people.

The second is that you’re able to make compelling arguments. So I don’t mean argument as in you’re going to get down and dirty in a karate fight or anything like that, but it’s more around, are you able to get buy-in from other people? So you don’t have to be a manager to do this now. This is really like leading without authority, right? It’s being someone that can go in and share your perspective in a way that’s going to encourage others to listen to you, that’s going to show them what’s in it for them, that’s going to bring people together and show that you’re a team player. Are you able to do that? Because if you’re able to make compelling arguments to advocate for something that you believe in, something that you want to do, a new process, a new project, that’s really going to help you as a people manager because you’re going to have to do that a lot. Whether it’s advocating for a decision that your company is making and you’re having to get buy-in from your team to go in a new direction, or if it’s to get on board with a decision that you’ve made that you think is best for the team.

So being able to get buy-in is a great skill and you can start practicing that right now. Now, the third one is that you don’t shy away from advocating for what’s right. I think managers, in general, people managers, leaders, they’re often put in situations where they have to speak up for themselves. They have to speak up for their team. They might see things that maybe go against their values, their company’s values, maybe an employee handbook, whatever it is. And you want to be the person that’s going to be able to stand up and advocate for what the right thing is and not be someone that sits in the corner and says, Oh, not my problem, and looks the other way. And so the best managers are able to stand up and advocate for what’s right. And you don’t have to be necessarily at the forefront of these different causes or the right police in your role now. But I do think it’s important that you won’t shy away from advocating for what’s right and that you do have the ability to do that. You’ve done it before and that you can see yourself doing that in a bigger way once you’re in a management role because you’re really going to be role modeling and it’s just really important that you have that integrity.

And we’re going to talk about that later in this list. So the next sign or trait that you’re ready to move into a people management role is that clear communication is your jam. You want to be a clear communicator. It is important to you that you’re communicating effectively, that you are able to look at other people’s styles and their ways of working and adapt yours and be agile and flexible and you’re able to make sure that your message is being received in the way that you intended, when you really make communication something that you want to master and get good at and that you continually work at, you are going to have better relationships. You’re going to be able to get the buy in. You’re going to be able to have empathy for others. You’re going to be able to demonstrate that. You’re going to be able to advocate. It’s really just like a building block. And a lot of the things that I’m talking about are really working together to make you that effective people manager at a foundational level. So if you care about communicating well, then that is a good sign. The next is that you have relevant technical expertise in the area that you’re managing so that you can make good decisions.

Now, I think this one is a little bit controversial because I don’t necessarily believe that you have to know how to do every single person’s job that reports to you. I don’t think that that is necessary. I do think you need to have some technical expertise in what your team does, and you need to be able to make decisions for your team. You need to be able to lead. You need to be able to know what’s right and wrong. You need to be able to make financial decisions. You need to be able to be the voice of reason when you have a team in conflict that doesn’t agree and they have different areas of expertise. You have to have enough expertise in your area that you’re able to make good decisions as a leader and that you’re able to lead the team. So do you have that relevant technical expertise, or would you be looking to go into a whole new area where you don’t have that? And if that were the case, then how are you going to bridge that gap? So definitely that is something I think is important is that you have that relevant technical expertise for the area that you’re going to be leading.

Now, the next is that the idea of being responsible for other people, it doesn’t scare you. So it is a big responsibility, and it’s okay to be nervous, to want to be your best. But if this is too scary for you, like if this is sending your central nervous system into shock and the idea of being responsible for others is something that doesn’t appeal to you, then that’s a really good indicator that maybe your motivations for being a people manager aren’t aligned with what the role really requires or maybe you’re not ready yet. So the seventh trait or sign that you are ready to be a people manager is you won’t be upset if you can’t be friends with everyone. So in my experience as a people manager, and I’ve helped other people through this as a coach also, and even working in the industry, if there’s a transition that you make when you go from peer to people manager. And when you make that transition, one of the hardest things to do is to let go of some of those friendships or that transparency that you had with your work besties or your work friends.

Because now you’re a manager, you’re a role model for the company, you’re a role model for the team. And so if you are used to sitting around at happy hour complaining about your leadership, that’s not something you can do anymore. If you’re used to going out to lunch with some members of your team, that’s not necessarily something that you can do anymore or at least not as frequently. So you have to be more aware of favoritism that might be perceived. Let’s say you’re work-friends with someone on the team, and then you become the leader of that team, you want to make sure that you’re seen as just and fair and that there’s not any favoritism going on. Those one-off lunches with your work bestie, if that’s a direct report now, you have to be aware of how that’s going to be perceived with the other people on the team, and you have to create some distance and have some emotional intelligence to be able to make that distinction and make good decisions in that area because you’re not going to be able to be friends with everyone. You’re now a leader and you have to make new friends that are at that leadership level where you can share confidential information with and that you can be more transparent with because you’re not going to be able to tell everything to your team like you might have before when you’re making that transition.

The next is that you’re able to see the big picture and think strategically about how your work impacts clients or stakeholders, colleagues, and just the overall company. So as a leader, you’re going to be in the micro of dealing with different employee issues and different problems that you’re going to help people solve, different questions you’re going to answer. But then you also have to be able to see how those decisions impact other people, how they impact the process, how they impact the company. And so being a strategic thinker is something that is important. Next is that you welcome feedback. So as a manager, you’re going to get feedback. There’s going to be people that love you. There’s going to be people that don’t. And you have to be able to go through that feedback to decipher it, to interpret it, and to not get too emotional or personal with that feedback. And you have to be able to use that to be the better manager, which is, again, emotional intelligence is really important. Self awareness is really important. And also I think this is where empathy really helps in this situation also, because if you’re thinking about the other person and what might have prompted maybe some critical feedback and you’re able to see their side, you’re able to process that feedback more effectively.

The next is that you have and work with integrity. So that is like doing what you say, building trust with others, doing the right thing. If you think about your experience with managers, I think if you think about this list, these are all things that you would have loved to see in every manager that you’ve ever worked with. If any of these things were lacking, the manager would have been lacking. If you had a manager who didn’t have empathy, what would that be like? If you had a manager that wasn’t able to communicate well, what would that be like? How would that impact your work? If you had a manager that didn’t care to actually lead you and was scared of you, how would that impact how you were at work, your interactions with that person, how productive or effective you were? If you had a manager who wasn’t able to get buy in from you, and so they just gave ideas and then they weren’t able to get you to see their side, and so they just had to lead with the hammer or lead with the stick and just mandate it under authority or hierarchy, that definitely would not be a positive experience.

Or if you had a manager who was playing favorites and out at lunch with one of your work coworkers, and then they seem to always be getting better performance reviews. You have to really think about if any of these things are missing. So these are all really just critical things as a foundation that I think are important that you have as even an early skill or trait before you go into a people management role. And so integrity is really important because you want your manager to do what they say they’re going to do. You want them to respect other people, that they’re a role model, that they’re doing the right thing. And then finally, the last one that I’ll mention is that you have a growth mindset. So you will continue to learn in your evolution of your own personal and professional development, regardless of the role that you’re in. And when you’re able to approach people and perspectives with an open mind, when you’re curious about new and better ways to do things, when you’re investing in your development in whatever way that looks for you, you’re going to continue to grow. You’re going to continue to be the best that you can be, and that is going to make you better for the people that you’re leading.

It’s also going to be a great example for them because I’m sure as a leader, you want your people to also be continuing to grow and learn and not to be stuck in a fixed mindset. So these are the 11 things that I think are the building blocks for moving into management. So if you resonate with these, if you say, yes, I have these. Yes, this is something that I have some fundamental skill or ability in, then definitely pursue that management role if it’s something that you’re interested in. You don’t have to be an expert in each one. There’s so much you will learn from experience. So it’s more than just reading books or taking classes. A lot of what you will learn will come from experience. But when you have these traits, you will have the ability to navigate any challenge that comes your way in an effective way. And of course, you’re going to make mistakes, right? There aren’t perfect managers because we are humans. As leaders, we are humans. As employees, we are humans. Just human nature does not allow for perfectionism. So there isn’t a way to be 100 % right with our delivery, our decisions, our mood, our expertise all of the time.

But if you’re able to continue to grow, have empathy for others, have integrity, be open to feedback, see the big picture, get buy-in, and communicate expectations, then when things go wrong, you’re able to move forward. You’re able to handle it, and you’ll be set up for success. So being a manager is a serious responsibility, but if you’re interested in it, I highly suggest trying it. Anything that you think might be missing from this list, you can definitely fill that gap. And you can see if this is a good fit for you in a low risk way with things like managing an intern or leading a project team to see if you like it. You can mentor others. If you’re still hungry for more, if you try those low risk things and look into it a little bit more and you’re like, Yeah, this is something I’m really hungry for, then go after that management role. So I was a manager for several years, and what I discovered is that there are parts of management that I really like, and there are parts that I don’t. I was able to find a way to lead, influence, and develop others without having a team report directly to me.

I was able to take the things I love about being a manager and leave the things I didn’t, but I wouldn’t have known that I could do that, or what I liked or what I didn’t, or that level of detail without trying it. So you can make a pivot. That is always an option. One of my clients has been leading a team for over a decade and just moved into an individual contributor role and will be leading through a matrix, and she’s so excited. It’s a new leadership challenge to influence and lead when you don’t have direct authority. In some ways, it’s harder because you can’t use your authority over others to tell people what to do. You have to get that buy in. So if you’re listening and thinking, Oh, I have these traits and I’m really interested, but what if I change my mind, or what if I don’t do a good job? Well, then I want you to know that there are simple solutions to that. You will 100 % learn what you like and what you don’t. And through your failure, you will get a lot of experience and insight into what you like and what you don’t.

And that failure and success really go hand in hand. So if you don’t like it, you can make a change. And you won’t know what you don’t like right away because you’re likely going to have some growing pains in a new management role, you’re going to need to settle in your role for a little bit to really know if you don’t like managing people because you won’t know if it’s just the discomfort of change of being in a new role and learning new things, or if it’s that you don’t like the management. So don’t worry that it’s going to be like, you’re going to make this decision, and then two weeks later, you’re going to regret it and have to do something. It’s going to take a little bit more time. So if you don’t do a good job, on the other hand, if it’s something where you’re just feeling like you’re failing as a leader, or you don’t feel like you’re doing as well as you want, then there’s support for that, too. Many companies have management trainings or provide reimbursement or professional development dollars, so you can find your own training, you can hire a coach, or you can fill the gap in a way that makes sense for you in your role.

One of the biggest lessons I can share is to just take the step. We spend so much time, and I have too, I am also guilty of this, of overthinking and building up decisions that we just stay stuck. But the more decisions you make, the more action you take, the more you will learn, the more you will grow, and the more confidence you will build in yourself. You’ll see that you can really handle anything, and you’ll get so much further, so much more quickly. So after hearing all of this, what do you think? Are you ready to be a people manager? Don’t wait to be perfect. If this is something that you want, go get it. And if you’re looking for added support in your role as a people manager, or as you prepare to make the move into people management, then consider joining me in the stand out leader incubator. The incubator is my leadership development coaching group for women in pharma biotech. Enrollment is open right now. You can head to www.yourworthycareer.com/incubator to get all of the details. 

All right, that is all for this week’s episode. Have an amazing week and I will talk to you soon.

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No longer settles for “good enough”

Hi, I’m Melissa.

Career & Leadership Coach for Women in Pharma/Biotech

I'm a former Talent & Development leader in Pharma/Biotech turned CEO and Certified Professional Career & Life Coach. I also host the podcast, Your Worthy Career.

I've been where you are, and I help you create the career you want without working more hours or settling for good enough.

I'm leading a movement of women in the industry who are figuring out exactly what they want and shattering the glass ceiling. The very real ceiling in the industry, but also the one that we impose on ourselves. 

So long, imposter syndrome and overthinking. It's time to step into the impact and life you're worthy of having.

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