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- This editions of Insider’s work-advice about how to handle the transition to a management role.
- It’s often lonely at first, but experts say there are things you can do to improve your situation.
- Identify tasks and responsibilities that fulfill you and look for ways to do more of them.
I was recently promoted into a pretty big management role, where I oversee several teams and a chunk of my company’s revenue. This should be my dream job: I’m making good money, I have a lot of responsibility, and I’m a senior leader in my organization.
The problem? I’m unhappy. I’ve always liked to work, and I’m good at my job. Becoming a boss was kind of inevitable. But I’ve never been a manager before, and now that I am one, I’m not sure I’m cut out for it.
Managing people, creating a vision, and delivering on the day-to-day tasks is harder than I thought it would be. For one thing, there are always tedious and time-consuming problems to solve, and most days I don’t feel like I know what I’m doing. For another thing, I don’t actually have that much power. My company is big, so even though I am higher up on the org chart than I’ve ever been, I’m still more of a middle manager in the grand scheme. Finally, the thing I’m struggling with the most is that while I’m ready for a challenge and ready for more, I want to focus on myself and my career, not on other people’s. That may sound selfish but it’s the truth.
I always thought I wanted to be a “leader,” but now I feel stuck in a job that isn’t right for me. What am I doing wrong? And are there steps I can take to get off the management track?
This is a classic case of expectations not living up to reality.
You got a big promotion and raise (Go you!), and in theory, you should be living your best life. But in the real world, you’re only semi-important, your authority is minimal, and your day-to-day is consumed by minutiae. In short, you have all the headaches of being a boss and none of the perks of being a star solo contributor — which is what got you your new gig in the first place. And that’s the crux of the matter: The skills that made you so good at your old job are completely different from the skills you need to be good at this one.
For starters, cut yourself some slack. You’re in a hard and lonely transition. But unless you’re really and truly miserable, I recommend against asking for a demotion. It’s a signal to your current company — and, quite frankly, hiring managers down the road — that you can’t handle change or stress. You’re better off sticking it out a year at least to get the maximum benefit of having that manager line on your résumé.
With that in mind, how do you cope with it now? And what can you do to speed up the learning curve so you get the hang of your job quicker? A little self-reflection is in order, said Karen Dillon, the former editor of Harvard Business Review and coauthor of three books.
Consider the good bosses you’ve had over the course of your career. “Think about how they communicated, what they did to keep things running smoothly, how they solved problems, and how they made you feel valued,” she said. “The answers to these questions may help you pinpoint behaviors and styles to emulate.”
Next, don’t be shy about asking for help. Your organization is highly invested in your success, so you need to be your own advocate in requesting resources. Find out from human resources if there’s leeway for you to attend a management course or if you can be assigned a mentor. Maybe there’s someone you know personally — a manager you used to work for, perhaps — who’s willing to be your sounding board.
Talk to your boss, too. It might feel silly to ask seemingly rudimentary questions like: What do you expect from me? How should I prioritize? And, can some of my tasks be delegated? But these candid conversations now can save you a lot of anguish later.
Speaking of anguish, you need to figure out a way to derive some degree of happiness or purpose in your new job. Otherwise it will continue to feel like a slog. It might be cold comfort, but what you’re experiencing as a new manager is pretty common, according to Nishani Bourmault, assistant professor at the NEOMA Business School in Paris. She calls it the “managerial blues” or the disenchantment that some people feel when they’ve been promoted into a managerial role and view it as less meaningful than their previous one.
The solution, said Bourmault, is straightforward. Identify what you enjoyed about your last job and the tasks and responsibilities that brought you the most personal fulfillment, and then look for ways to do more of those things in your current role, she said.
“Think about what you’re missing and what made you feel good about your old job and then, if it’s possible, design your new job so that you can do a little more of what you like to do.”
Finally, keep your options open. Expand your network so you’re in the best possible position to hear when new jobs open. Connecting with people inside and outside your organization could help you chart a path back to being an individual contributor if that’s what you decide you want.
And yet, you could ultimately decide to stay on the management track. Once you learn the ropes, you might realize there are benefits to being the boss.
This story originally published on December 7, 2021.