The jump from individual contributor to first time manager is the hardest transition in business. Support your IC's with 5 easy mindset shifts.
“It’s just not the way I would have acted when I was in the role.”
It’s a line I hear at least once during every new leader coaching engagement.
And it makes sense.
As an individual contributor, this person probably over delivered, responded quickly to Slacks (especially from the boss), was self accountable and operated with little oversight.
So naturally, the new manager expects that when they move into a leadership role, their direct reports are going to act exactly as they did when they were in the role.
We all know this is wishful thinking but perhaps we know that because of experience. Because we’ve managed the direct reports who need the hand holding and the oversight and who settle for good enough.
First time managers don’t have the luxury of experience. They are figuring out all of these new realities on the fly. They’re having to completely shift to new paradigms in the moment.
It’s one of the reasons that I believe the jump from individual contributor to first time manager is the hardest transition in business. Put yourself in their shoes: you are coming from a role where you were solely responsible for your success. Usually goals were well defined and as long as you executed on the direction you were given, you were (most likely) doing your job.
And now, as a people leader, their whole world is turned upside down. Often high achieving individuals are expected to learn on the job and required to work in ambiguity- all while establishing new relationships with their former peers.
It’s why transitioning from an individual contributor to a first-time manager involves more than just a change in title—it requires a fundamental shift in mindset. As employees step into leadership roles, they must navigate new responsibilities and perspectives to effectively lead their teams.
Here are five key mindset shifts that you can help your individual contributors make (and how to help them) as they transition to becoming first-time managers:
As individual contributors, the path to success often feels straightforward: personal performance directly correlates with individual achievements. Their actions, decisions, and dedication shape their professional trajectory. However, in the move to a managerial role, success now hinges not on personal achievements, but on the growth, development, and accomplishments of their team members. In short, the success of a manager is intricately tied to the success of their employees.
How to help: Establish a mentorship program. Pay close attention to those who foster, support and develop their junior colleagues. How do they share feedback? How do they celebrate their wins? How do they coach on skill development?
Every action and decision a manager makes sets an example for their team. Transitioning from an individual contributor to a manager requires an awareness of how one's behavior influences team dynamics, morale, and performance. Effective managers lead by example and understand the ripple effect of their actions.
How to help: Massive Change Project. Give a false scenario that would be a massive change to your company (restructuring, acquisition, compensation plan rework) and have emerging leaders think through a plan for this change. How do they ensure they understand the change? How are they anticipating reactions? How do they plan communication? How do they ensure a successful return to work?
While individual contributors focus on executing tasks assigned to them, managers must adopt a broader perspective by understanding the company's vision, goals, and challenges. First-time managers who have become accustomed to solely following directives may often struggle in anticipating problems and being proactive in how to best set their direct reports up for success.
How to help: Problem/Solution Project. Task your emerging leaders with arriving at a solution to a problem that faces your organization. Be sure to support the leaders in thinking through how the solution will impact other departments, how to model out short term v. long term impact and how to gauge success of the solution.
As individual contributors, success is often defined by clear metrics or project outcomes. However, as managers, success becomes more nuanced, focusing on the impact they have on their team's development, performance, and overall success. First-time managers must shift their mindset from tangible results to the broader influence they exert as leaders.
How to help: 30, 60, 90 Project. Have an emerging leader begin to think about the metrics, milestones and achievements they would be hoping to hit in their first 90 days. An easy way to do so is to think of traits they admire in their best leader that they want to emulate, traits they disrespect in their least effective leader that they want to avoid, and traits that are unique to them that they want to reinforce. What actions, skillsets or behaviors need to change in the first 90 days to align to those traits.
Transitioning from a peer to a manager requires navigating a shift in relationships and dynamics. While camaraderie and mutual respect remain important, first-time managers must establish boundaries and authority while maintaining open communication and trust with their former peers.
How to help: MeManual Project. Have emerging leaders think about how they will establish new expectations with their former peers by creating a manual of how they operate as a leader. Get them thinking about their leadership philosophy, values, expectations, challenges they face, strengths, communication style.
Success of a first time manager won’t come from simply hitting targets or ticking off tasks. Success is nurturing a team culture where everyone feels valued, supported, and inspired to do their best work while recognizing that their impact extends far beyond their direct reports.
For an organization to foster that success in their first time managers, they must acknowledge and help prepare for the profound shift in mindset and perspective in the transition from individual contributor.
If you or your organization could you use in preparing your emerging leaders for promotion to first time people leader, The Casslo Group would love to help.