How to successfully transition from peer to manager

Group of colleagues walking outdoors

Becoming a leader is a career milestone. 

Along with a new job title, you’re also taking home a bigger pay packet, and have greater organisational influence, responsibility and autonomy. 

But it’s not all sunshine and roses. Even the best and brightest will find the process of becoming a leader a difficult, yet rewarding, journey of continuous learning and self-development. 

Just ask Sonali D’silva, who has more than two-decades of leadership and management development experience and delivers the ‘From Team Member to Team Leader’ short course at Professional and Continuing Education. 

“Leadership is something you need to learn,” Sonali says. 

“Often, what makes the transition hard is that excelling in your career as an individual is different to excelling as a team leader…it requires different competencies than when you’re working on your own.Sonali D'silva

“I stumbled in my own career, but I became more effective with effort, time and advice.

“Now, I help people navigating this transition look out for common traps and pitfalls and develop leadership tools that allow them to become more effective leaders.”    

If you’re about to embark on your leadership journey — or have just landed your first leadership role — keep reading to unpack the challenges, and Sonali’s ‘do’s’ and ‘don’ts’ of transitioning from team member to team leader. 

Challenges involved with becoming ‘The Boss’  

For some people, becoming a leader is an intentional decision. But many other people find themselves ‘falling’ into leadership because of circumstance.  

“In my case, I wanted to become a team leader,” Sonali says. 

“But I meet more people who have stumbled into leadership by accident — what I call ‘accidental’ leaders and managers.”

According to Sonali, the most common reason people find themselves moving into leadership is because they have been in a department or role “long enough”. They’re promoted into managerial roles based on strong performance in non-managerial tasks.

“They know the customers, the processes, the technicalities of the job – so the next logical step is for them to be promoted,” Sonali says. 

 “Often these people do not want more responsibility, but they don’t see other pathways for growth and development within the organisation. 

“That’s often how leadership happens. That’s stressful and I don’t think that’s the right way to step into leadership.”

When this happens, many people struggle with knowing how to translate their productivity and their sense of excellence to their team. 

“They don’t know how to communicate to their team that it can be done better, or how they can translate their standards without being bossy, or heavy handed,” Sonali says.

“People find that demotivating.

“Learning how to transition your expertise to better performance for your team is where the greatest challenge lies.”

The ‘Do’s’ and ‘Don’ts’

So, what are some simple strategies you can employ to help you navigating this transition? 
Start with focusing on your mindset, Sonali says. 

"Switch your thinking from ‘I must know all the answers, I must be the smartest in the room, I should solve all the problems’ to ‘I must listen well’.Sonali D'silva

“Approach leadership as a learner…go into your new role as a ‘sponge’.”

According to a 2021 organisational psychology study, listening to your team’s feedback on business decisions can help you foster a collaborative environment that boosts productivity and helps employees feel valued.

“Take your time to observe your team, and be humble and self-aware when seeking feedback,” Sonali says. 

“Be patient, too…if you’ve got younger or less experienced team members who don’t know how to give feedback the right way, don’t get your back up.” 

A great way to seek feedback is by organising a one-on-one with every member of your new team. 

“A good one-on-one helps you to get to know someone and build trust, rapport and respect as a leader,” Sonali says. 

“It gives your staff an incentive to listen and pay attention to your requests - everyone wants to do things for people who are respectful. 

“Be humane, be vulnerable, say ‘I would love to learn more about all of you, I think that will help me lead better’.”

And the don’ts? 

“I would avoid long team meetings…most new leaders don’t have competence for running long meetings,” Sonali says. 

“Finally, don’t forget to celebrate small wins – we can be very hard on ourselves. 

“If you have a couple of good one-on-ones, pat yourself on the back, congratulate yourself, and feel energised for next Monday.” 

Leadership is not a solo journey

Like any new skill, learning how to be a good leader takes time, but you can speed up the process by seeking out help and guidance from peers or mentors who have been, or are going through, the same transition as you. 

“I taught myself the hard way – through trial and error – and it was scary, time consuming and exhausting,” Sonali says. 

The ‘From Team Member to Team Leader’ short course at Professional and Continuing Education is a fantastic way to upskill yourself quickly, and form connections with peers experiencing the same transition as you. 

“This course provides an opportunity to hear stories and learn from others in the same position as you,” Sonali says.  

“You’ll have scientifically proven tools at your disposal to help you feel more confident and competent, you will find the motivation and clarity to do difficult things without taking too much time. 

“The course can help to reduce your stress and overwhelm and become a more effective leader faster – who doesn’t want that!”  Sonali D'silva


Tagged in Pace article, Pace Media, PACE