Over the course of a seven-year career in executive recruiting, I have helped countless individuals move up the corporate ladder. At the same time, my own career has evolved successfully, from a sales support role to my current position as managing partner. These professional and personal experiences have yielded valuable insights into a fundamental question: how does one become a manager?
I’ve learned that becoming a manager means, essentially, living in two moments. All aspiring professionals aim to excel in the here and now. At the same time, it is crucial to mold one’s workplace persona with a keen eye to the future.
To put yourself on the fast track to management, consider implementing these three strategies:
Know the lay of the land. Begin by assessing your opportunities. Is there room to grow at your company? Think beyond your own department and get familiar with the needs of the workplace as a whole. Particularly in today’s economy, a lateral move can help you broaden your skill set, grow your professional network, and make you a more versatile and indispensable employee. Make it clear that you want to move up. Pursue relationships across the corporate structure, and find a mentor who can give advice about how to get promoted. Growing companies often appoint managers ad hoc. Identify a need for a new management role, and you might be just the person for the job.
Don’t think of management as an end in itself. In my first job after college, I was fixated on getting into management. I did it – but I wasn’t ready for a management role and was in over my head. My promotion, in other words, stalled my professional development, which regained momentum only after I made a lateral move. I received three more promotions over the following four years, and because I had cultivated greater self-awareness, emotional maturity, and professional skills, I was ready for them. Through this experience, I learned that a management role can’t have value for its own sake, or because it garners status, power, or higher wages. It needs to be a logical step in the evolution of one’s career. Prioritize your own personal growth and the growth of the company: a management role should be a means to those ends. Recognize and nurture the value you bring, and address areas where further growth is needed. Make sure you can articulate why you are passionate about your company and its goals. If you exude passion and dedication, promotions will naturally follow – but don’t put the cart before the horse.
Look beyond the task at hand. Increasingly, employers are looking for highly developed soft skills such as planning and organization expertise, communication skills, emotional maturity, and self-awareness. Many new managers are surprised to feel more beholden than ever to a vast network of higher-ups, clients, and employees. This shift in responsibility demands a manager, not just a doer. Hard skills – capabilities that are specific to your job or industry – are important, of course, but having only those skills makes you perfect for a task-specific, rather than project-oriented, role. A doer lives by the mantra: “things get done faster when I do them myself.” Doers tend to under-utilize their teams. A manager, on the other hand, knows how to maximize the potential of the team as a whole by delegating projects effectively. Place value on soft skills. Look at the big picture, as well as the exigencies of the moment. Finally, present yourself as manager material. Don’t underestimate the importance of self-presentation and attention to detail, both in your work and in your appearance – in other words, dress smartly!
The key to becoming a manager is to start acting like one. Assess your opportunities, grow your professional network, develop your soft skills, and be passionate and dedicated – and, of course, aim to excel at the work you are doing now. With a little planning, you’ll rise to the top.
What are your strategies for getting promoted? Please share your own tips on how to excel on the management track.