Managing the career transition from techie to team lead

April 19, 2022
The CTO Academy community is not only growing and facilitating the career transition of thousands of tech leaders within the UK, it’s also gone global with customers and contributors from every corner of the world – Guatemala to Sydney, Bangalore to Sao Paulo. But despite a myriad of different countries, companies, roles and responsibilities there are consistent challenges when it comes to leadership and management. One that comes up time and again, is how lonely it can be at the top. How isolated a manager and leader can feel, but can rarely disclose. One scenario that occurred recently for someone we work with, was an isolation they felt with former colleagues after a promotion.  How he struggled to manage the changed dynamic that arose due the career transition as he was suddenly managing a team from which he was once an integral and trusted member.  Where the different responsibilities between the former and new role, created a distance and worse with former colleagues. You see this tension emerge when sports stars get promoted to a management role within the same club, the career transition from being one of the group to leading the group, challenges old relationships and channels of communication. The same is often true within business and within tech teams. Where are the potential points of conflict?
They have trust issues
You are not one of them anymore. If Negative Nancy has been sharing with you her darkest thoughts about the company before, she may now become distant. Will your lunch breaks start to be more dominated by management colleagues and demands, than the exchange of views and gossip before? Will there be a natural and necessary growing apart? It can be challenging to keep alliances and friendships after a promotion because of concerns about trust and uncertainty where your loyalties now lie. The key is not to change yourself. Not to become all things to all people. Stay who you are and work on bringing former colleagues with you to understand the dynamic might change, but the people don’t. Remain who you are the day you met them and if sufficient respect is in place, they will understand and hopefully be enthusiastic about the change taking place. Potentially easier for them to be led by someone they know, than someone they don’t. Stay true to who you are, and former colleagues are much more likely to travel with you.
Suddenly you’re the problem solver, not the problem sharer
As a senior manager your role needs to shift from day to day operational, to chief problem solver. You also have to learn the art of when to say no. Potentially, some of the problems are being created by those former colleagues. You’ll be well equipped to understand the people and from that try to find an amicable solution, but the dynamic has changed and the way you have negotiated the transition will impact on your ability to lead through the problems and solutions. They might only now tell you the positive things and, only if you ask them Before, as colleagues, they might tell you the most sensitive details about their work, lives, loves. Now, there’s a potential blackhole between you. Because of the history of your relationship with them, they might be over censorious about the information they’re prepared to release, as against an outsider with whom there is no historic connection or baggage. You need to be clear and communicative about the new relationship. Provide them with comfort and confidence that the personal and professional will never be mixed and that if it’s an important issue for the business and team, they must be able to disclose it. Create a platform for communication with daily huddles and scrum meetings, where the focus remains on transparency and professionalism within the team. What you cannot allow is any previous personal expectations to infect new professional considerations, particularly if you’re leading people from outside your immediate group.
Managing for the business
Of course the real challenges within this new dynamic is when you have to communicate and impact an unpopular management or company decision. How you handled the transition. How you built the channels of communication. How you created the new professional dynamic will be pivotal to how you handle your responsibility to the company, alongside loyalty to your colleagues. Sometimes business priorities are harsh and you will need to figure out the most diplomatic and reasonable solution to best balance the needs of company and team. If you’ve built the necessary respect beforehand, then the path might prove smoother when faced with difficult discussions in the future. Sometimes the decisions and the reaction will be out of your hands.
Handling personal issues (real or fabricated)
One of the biggest shifts for you to cope with when experiencing a career transition and moving into management, is dealing with personal issues that spill and impact on the work environment. Managing people can be stressful and absences, particularly late or suspicious behaviour is challenging. This is particularly difficult if you know in the past that a particular employee has been, shall we say, “economical with the truth” and comes up with a fantastic excuse for not coming into work. If you suspect old habits remain in place, despite your new role, then a quiet word might be required. But more generally, you need to manage with compassion and understand that external issues can impinge on their ability to deliver at work. Good managers have a high EQ and you will need to build the ability to look behind the headlines and understand/empathise/act on what you believe is happening.

More About CTO Academy

CTO Academy has been Ranked #2 Best CTO Course in the World. We provide online management skills training, mentoring and career development advice for tech leaders and managers around the world. Membership starts from just $49 per month, more details available here. “The skill set CTOs and IT Managers now require are a world away from what was needed in the past. I find the CTO Academy training modules to be highly valuable resources, providing broad-based business skills and awareness essential for success in the modern workplace.” – Eli Oshorov, Sydney

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