From manager to individual contributor

May 26, 2020
20 minute read
Last updated May 29, 2020

Connor (00:00):
The following episode was recorded before the Coronavirus pandemic, but we still thought the topics were useful and applicable today. Stay safe out there and we hope you enjoy.

Drew (00:16):
Hello and welcome to In Confidence: Face your workplace. A podcast that seeks to reveal the true blockers of confidence at work on the job with a boss or in their career from real callers so they can face their workplace and achieve their goals. In most instances the names people and workplace information shared have likely been altered to protect the identity of those involved. We’re your host, I’m Drew Fortin.

Alyssa (00:36):
Hey, it’s Alyssa Dver. I’m so glad you’re here with us. We are going to get into our call, but before we do that, I want to remind everyone that comments and suggestions made are specific to the caller and their situation. Your results may vary. And we have on the line Sam, are you there?

Sam (00:54):
I am. Thanks for having me.

Alyssa (00:55):
Oh, we’re so glad you’re with us. And the topic that we’re going to chat with you about, I understand, is that you have a team lead that is going from being a leader into an individual contributor role. Boy, it is Friday for sure. Would you give us a little bit more explanation what’s going on there and what the issues are?

Sam (01:19):
Yeah, absolutely. So not only is it a team lead, it’s actually me, so I’m moving or have just recently moved from leading a team of about, I think 10 back into an individual contributor. So I had led this team for about three years in a remote fashion and I had determined that I wanted to spend the next three years in a different type of role. So I worked with my supervisor, the CEO, to kind of carve out a separate role. And now I’ve transitioned into this other role. And I think some of the challenges are where I’m hoping to get some help around is how do I continue a productive relationship with the team I managed previously. I don’t want to step on any toes, but I also want to continue to help mentor and help them be successful. How do I help the new leader of this team be successful? But without, again stepping on their toes and how do I ease into this different role? It’s very different managing a team versus being an individual contributor. So that’s kind of where I’m at. That’s the situation. Uh, hit me with your question. What else do you need to know?

Alyssa (02:26):
Tip of the iceberg here, my friend. So what, why is it different and why is it difficult?

Sam (02:32):
So why is it different? I mean different, if you think about managing a team, it’s your, your, your time is not necessarily, and I mean this in the most positive way, what your time isn’t necessarily yours. You’re supporting your team, you’re solving problems you’re making sure that these folks are as productive as possible. Switching to individual contributor, you’re really responsible for only yourself in your work. So that’s definitely a shift in terms of and time. And then just the interpersonal going from manager to peer, is it definitely a change in that type of relationship? So it’s how do you influence, and I guess, how do you influence to get, continue to get work done with people who used to manage, but then how do you also help them be successful? Cause I still care about their career and their success.

Drew (03:23):
Sure. Sam, what I guess how was this communicated to, to the team and is there, would there ever be any thought that the team was like, Oh, this wasn’t happening or you know, at Sam didn’t work out, so they’re changing his role. Like do you think any of that would be in the back of people’s heads or was it communicated well?

Sam (03:44):
I think it was communicated well. I mean, I worked with each of the direct reports to myself and let them know before anyone else and communicated the why and brought in an executive on top of myself to talk about the why as well. Um, from their perspective. And then we announced it more broadly. So it was very thoughtful. But of course, maybe some of those questions are still there, but we tried to take a very thoughtful approach to the communication.

Alyssa (04:10):
I really have to give you a lot of credit. Um, obviously we were just meeting now on this call and a little bit of information, but, you know, it takes a lot of bravery and a lot of confidence to say, look, you know what? I know management is looked upon as a privilege and honor and reward and all that and I don’t want to do that. So I wonder in that decision that you made, how, um, you know, you, you certainly are going, as you said before, you decided to go in a different role, different direction. Um, how do you feel you feel like that they were really legitimate reasons that, um, and then let me take that back. Not that they weren’t legitimate, but when you, you know, you look back now, you made the decision, you did it, and you’re like, yep, this is what I want to do. You still feel as confident as you did that day?

Sam (04:58):
I do. I mean, I think some of the challenges that have come up, um, I, you know, maybe not foreseen, but I feel like it has been the right move, both from a professional and a personal cause it’s always balancing the two. I still feel good about the move. Yeah.

Alyssa (05:13):

Okay. Well that’s important.

Drew (05:15):
And then, um, is the transition done and your old role has been filled?

Sam (05:22):
Yeah, I stayed on through to find the leader, so it wasn’t, uh, you know, obviously there was a bit of a half and half, half like you’re always not quite one foot in, one foot out, but trying to transition before, but I stayed on and kept the accountability for the team until we had found that next leader.

Drew (05:37):
Great. And are you a peer of this leader or what’s the…

Sam (05:41):
Yup. Yup. I’m a peer of the leader, so we all sit on the same kind of executive team.

Alyssa (05:48):
Do you notice, are you feeling any particular signs or any difference in the way that people are responding to you and how you’re, um, you know, kind of working them? Are you feeling something that’s changed?

Sam (05:59):
Yeah, I mean certainly the team that I previously managed and not necessarily in a bad, bad way, but it’s more like, um, again, it’s going from here’s what we need to do. Never being like directive, but you know, you’re, you’re the manager, you’re the boss to, Hey, I have this idea or I’d like to see this get done. Definitely. Um, both me being more cautious to not like overstaffed cause I’m really conscious of that, but also like they’re not, if they don’t agree with me, it’s, it’s like they don’t have to, like, it’s not that they ever had to, but like they can go do what they need to do with their ball, their new manager.

Drew (06:40):
Right. And will you be, will your new role be interacting still very much so with this team and getting work done through them or,

Sam (06:48):
yeah, I mean it’s clearly not as much as previously bought, not like totally separate. There’s still definite overlap and collaboration.

Drew (06:57):
Great. Um, and how long has the new boss been on board?

Sam (07:03):
Uh, everything’s been about a quarter, so three months at this point.

Drew (07:06):
And how’s that relationship?

Sam (07:09):
Uh, good. Good. I mean we’re like a good working relationship. Um, you know, again, with the new manager coming on, also the new leader coming on, I’ve given them space to or trying to give them space to figure out how they want to manage and let them come to me versus me being like, Hey, what about this or that? That’s just the approach I’ve taken.

Alyssa (07:35):
All right, so all good information. Thank you for sharing all that. I, you know, I kind of want to go back to some of the initial comments you made just to make sure that you know, that you really, um, reminded quite frankly of the decision you may for good reasons. A, um, I think you also said that you still want to contribute to their, uh, to the leadership of the organization as a whole but also as part of the team. So those are all really good and don’t lose sight of those. Of course. I also want to kind of ask you, quite frankly, is there some level of worry with this move that you haven’t exposed here? And if you, you know, if you’re uncomfortable in terms of really sharing with us the details, that’s fine. But you called in, you making a switch. So really at the heart. Sam, what, what, what, what are you worried about?

Sam (08:29):
Sure. I mean, I think that’s a good question. Um, you know, I think where I’d be worried about is, um, give me a second to kind of think and, uh, get my thoughts here. Uh, I think, I think there’s, I think there’s two parts. I think one, there’s always the ego. If you taking a step back, as you said, almost like management is this, you know, it’s a step up in the path, quote unquote, and to take a step back will that while I lose influence, will I kind of hurt the trajectory of my own career. So that’s a bit of a personal and then more of the, I guess the worry internally is the, did I leave the team in the best position to succeed? Um, will it ultimately, you know, was it the right move in that sense for those people that I asked to come, like follow and work with me. So I guess those would be the two worries.

Drew (09:31):
That sounds perfectly legitimate.

Alyssa (09:33):
Yeah, no kidding. Um, let’s deal with them separately. Shall we? Ego. If this path that you’ve decided is better for you for all different reasons that you said personal professionally and otherwise, and in the long play, which is, you know, career is a long play and versus staying in the role that you were in. Do you have any doubts that the long play is going to be much better given what you did?

Sam (10:03):
I mean, any doubt. I mean, there’s always some doubt, but I feel confident that ultimately the long play will work out well. Um, generally the decisions I’ve made or how I’ve kind of approached have ended up as a net positive. So I can’t say there’s no worry there. There’s always some doubt there. But I think it will end up net positive for sure.

Alyssa (10:33):
Good. So, you know, I, I always say to people, you can never be a hundred percent certain about anything in life at all. There’s always a deviation. There’s always a margin of potential error. So, alright, go with that. But if it was you made this decision, it sounds like you’re very confident with it, maybe it’s a short term. Did I make the right decision? I made the right decision, but you haven’t seen the fruits of it yet. So don’t discount the fact that you did this for some greater reward than you were going to get in the other path and just keep reminding yourself that, cause that’s really important. You sound like a very thoughtful person. Um, ego? Drew? Hard, right? You’re a manager.

Drew (11:12):
What are you trying to say?

Alyssa (11:12):
Nah, nothing man. Um, but you know, like if, if somebody tomorrow said to you, Drew, you’re like the greatest, you know how to marketing, you’re a great manager, but we want you to go over and do this thing. There’s no people involved. That’s hard. Right?

Drew (11:25):
Yeah, it is. And it sounds like for Sam, this is self born, right?

Sam (11:34):
That’s correct. Yeah.

Drew (11:34):
Yeah. So you making the decision to move it in a way in your head, which it seems like the whole ego game, but then I don’t think it’s as big for the ego game cause it’s, you would have likely already come to grips with this. Um, in order to say, I think I want this change for myself. So really it’s probably there’s if putting myself in your shoes feeling a bit of the, um, there could be some guilt associated with like this new person that comes in, I’m not sure. Right. Um, switching a bit to um, advice or just a thought here is this new person that came on board. Um, there definitely is the rule of reciprocity here. They wouldn’t be there unless you made the decision to move and they know that subconsciously. Right. Um, and, and so I don’t know if you’ve had conversations with them, but to share with them, like the things that I did love about that unit and about what this can, how this can help the company are these things. And these are the things I want to build a relationship with you over and I want to set the expectation like I expect to see these things cause I don’t want to let my team down. Right. And to be upfront with them about that.

Sam (12:51):
I think that’s good feedback there. I mean I don’t think that’s something that I’ve necessarily thought about. Um, so I do appreciate that. That’s it. That is a good point.

Alyssa (13:01):
You also said before, I love the way you phrase it. You said when you were imagining the time was not your own and then you went to an individual level and all of a sudden you’re responsible for your own time. Is that a good thing or bad thing?

Sam (13:16):
I mean I think, I think it’s always easy. I think there can be an easy way out to say, well, uh, defer your time elsewhere. Cause then there’s not necessarily a decision to be made of should I do this or that. It’s like all I have to take care of that. So I don’t know if it good or bad. I think in the long run, the more you can take control of your time, manager or not, is a good thing. But this just creates a certain, there’s nowhere to hide I guess.

Alyssa (13:42):
Right. There’s nowhere to hide. And I think these are all kind of tying together a little bit. Like, I don’t know if this is the appropriate metaphor, but like there’s, there’s not a net right? Like before you’re like, “Oh, I got to worry about my people, I got to worry about the team, I got to do this.” And now all of a sudden you’re like, “Oh, I’m kind of exposed here.” Right? Um, that’s normal. That’s totally normal. And I think combined that fear of like there’s may not be such a net in terms of the day to day what I’m supposed to be doing and metrics and all that. Um, it’s what a great opportunity. You don’t have to be tied to that.

Sam (14:18):
Yeah, no, that’s fair as well. And I think grounding back on that is important cause that’s probably, you know, if I think back when this really started, it takes a long time to transition like this. When I first started that was what was exciting. But then you get caught up in transition and you know, ego and all of those things we just discussed. So that’s another good thing to ground back on. I appreciate it.

Alyssa (14:42):
You know, I think one other suggestion that comes to my brain and you know, I work, I used to be a head of marketing. A lot of people under and over the years have gone to an individual contributor, my own business. You have to manage yourself and in some ways apply the same management style and techniques that you would for other people to yourself or get somebody else, a mentor or a coach or somebody to help you do that. Because I think what also is very scary when you don’t have the net of, Oh, I can, you know, my day went by, but I helped four other people and you don’t have that anymore. And, or my day went by and you know, I didn’t progress my career. Like you have all those doubts, you need something in some way to come back to that centering of this is why I’m doing it, this is what I’ve accomplished. You know, like you need somebody to met. We all need managers, I guess is what I’m saying. And at the same time, you know how to manage. So is there a way that you think you can actually manage yourself in this capacity so that you feel that you are making the same contribution and you’re getting further in the path that you, the reason you took this whole path to begin with?

Sam (15:48):
Yeah, I mean I think that I have used coaches in the past but more for management or managing up or down. Um, but I suppose they’re probably, whether it’s bringing coach back in or taking some of those things that I was coached on and bringing that back and it kind of turning it to this new role versus how do you manage externally.

Drew (16:13):
Yep. And as far as maintaining relationships with those on your team, if there’s likely some team members, we all have them, that we, for whatever reason, develop a deeper bond where there is that mentor, mentee relationship, you should absolutely maintain those in figure it away with that person’s boss. Like you want to maintain those relationships and that’s going to be healthy for everyone. So, I do think kind of asking permission in a way, but having those sorts of conversations with the new leader of the team about how you can help and how you would like to help and um, you know, maintaining those relationships is going to also just be beneficial for you.

Sam (16:56):
Sure. And do you recommend talking with the new leader about that? Is that okay?

Drew (17:02):

Alyssa (17:02):

Drew (17:02):
Yeah, I mean, and it’s all of this is like above board I think just because transparent as possible. Yeah, share with them. “These are the things that are going through my head, right? So in order for me to be successful in this new role on my hierarchy of needs is that the team is doing amazing.” Right, right. And, and so you, you can say, “I’ll be the first one to raise my hand to come in and help. Um, I plan to maintain and tell them like book time on my calendar if you ever need me and I’ll be happy to share that information back with you.” Um, you know, just let them know that you have like almost, it’s like an assumptive sell, but let them know you’re going to be involved. Um, I think it’s important.

Sam (17:41):
Okay. Yeah, that’s great advice. Thank you.

Alyssa (17:43):
I also wonder, not just for that new manager bread, maybe there’s some other managers in the organization that could use, um, a buddy too, like a coach, a, you know, a mentorship or not even a mentorship. Just, you know, um, now that you don’t have all that direct report overhead, you can actually be a really good resource for other managers, you know?

Sam (18:02):
Sure. And is that just a look around who might be new, who might be whatnot? Is it talk to other like senior leaders and ask them if they have someone? How would you recommend the best approach on that?

Alyssa (18:12):
I think you could, but I think in my gut it says you probably know some folks there that maybe are new managers or maybe not as effective. You know, it’s pretty visible usually. And maybe go and say, look, you know what, you’re in a new role. You’d love to have, you know, set up a monthly or weekly or whatever the timeframe is, coffee, lunch together, and just kind of bat around some ideas and you wind up becoming mentors to each other. How, how great is that? I mean, it’s a phenomenal opportunity to take that expertise and yet you now you have a little bit more time and leeway and you need it and they need it. I mean, let’s put it to great use, you know?

Sam (18:46):
Okay, great. Great. Thank you.

Drew (18:49):
So, Sam, it sounds like, you know, we’ve had, uh, um, plenty of ideas here and I’m sure you have of others. If there was one thing that, um, you took away from today’s call that you want to try, what’s, what do you think that’s going to be?

Sam (19:02):
Yeah, I mean I think there’s a few things, but if I was to pick just one, it would certainly be to have that open dialogue with the new leader in terms of kind of not necessarily my expectation. Maybe it is expectations. But what I would look from in term, like look from them as the new leader and also that very open communication of how I’ll continue working with the team even in a mentory fashion. So that’s probably the big thing that I would take away.

Drew (19:31):
Awesome. Sam, thanks so much for taking the time to call in today. Um, and uh, cheers. Cheers to you for making, for making that decision. That felt right.

Alyssa (19:40):
That’s awesome. Good luck with everything, man.

Sam (19:42):
All right, well thanks for everything.

Alyssa (19:45):
Thank you. Isn’t it interesting how we kind of tie our egos to an M a title? Yeah. Yeah. Emojis too, for that matter.

Drew (19:52):
Absolutely but I mean, cheers to Sam. He’s so self-aware.

Alyssa (19:55):
He’s like a good guy. Yeah. I almost want to work with him. It’s awesome.

Drew (19:58):
I want to work with you Sam.

Alyssa (20:00):
Yay us. Yay Sam.

Connor (20:02):
Thanks for listening. Consider applying to be a caller to get answers to your questions and to help other listeners in the process. You can find out how to apply in the show notes of this episode. Also, if you found this content useful, consider telling just one friend who you think would like it. We’d really love your help spreading the word. Thanks so much.