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From Individual Contributor to Manager: The Simple Math of a Difficult Shift

It can be hard transitioning to manager. It totally shifts the mindset and value-creation principles that so many new managers developed, delivered, and were recognized for in being promoted to manager. The shift isn’t just one of roles. In many ways, it can feel like one of identity. The people we promote to manager typically value what they do, and value the impact what they do has had on the company.

When we promote them to manager, we recognize them for what they have done, but we change what they do. We change how they are expected to add value and have impact. And yet, we rarely slow down to help reframe what it means to be a manager and how that’s different from the work they’ve done to get there.

I was having this exact conversation with a new manager when it dawned on me that she was actually expressing a sense of loss in becoming a manager. She felt less impactful in this role, less valuable for “passing off” work to someone else that she had always done herself. So, in some attempt to hold onto her historic value, she kept doing what she’d always done - and just layered her new management duties on top. She was burning herself out, her team was flailing, and she was even considering leaving the company.

This is a person who had recently been promoted because of her indefatigable energy and commitment to the company! They love her. She loves them! For nearly a decade, she has found life-purpose and meaning in her work there. She is proud to have helped build the company, to have been there to grind it out with the founders and just make stuff happen for their customers. In other words, she knows how to deliver value and how to feel valuable as a hard-working, dedicated, individual contributor. Now, she’s a struggling manager.

It dawned on me that to reboot this transition to manager, she has to redefine her value creation equation – from an equation where she creates direct value to one in which she also creates value through others.

I explained somewhat off-the-cuff that as an individual contributor, she delivered one unit of value with one unit of work. As a manager, when she enables one of her people to execute on that unit of work, she creates one unit of value out of the fact that it was executed and another unit of value out of the fact that someone else did it. In other words, as a manager, she is creating more value, not less, when someone else does the work and does it successfully.

She looked at me puzzled for a moment, and then a sort of liberated smile flashed across her face.

“That’s it!” She exclaimed. “I never thought of it that way. But, that’s it. I know I can’t keep doing what I’m doing. My supervisor has been pushing me that it’s not just about me delivering the work. It’s about the team. I’ve got a great team. I know they want more from me. They want to grow. I’ve just been thinking about it wrong.”

So, here’s the simple math:

Individual Contributor Value = Work Execution

Manager Value = Work Execution + Capacity Building


Work Execution Variable:

  • Did the work get done?

  • Was it done well?

  • Was it done on time?

Capacity Building Quotient:

  • Did someone else get an opportunity to grow and own the work?

  • Did I have the opportunity to work on something else?

  • Are we closer to someone else consistently delivering the work without me?


Questions for a new manager to ask yourself:

  1. Yes, the work needs to get done, but do I need to be the one to do it?

  2. What am I not doing with my time because I am doing this? Which one is more important for me to do?

  3. Would our team be better off if someone other than just me knew how to do this? Felt supported to do this?

  4. Is this a one-off task or something that will need to happen again? Do I want to keep doing it? Should someone else own it in the future?

  5. Is my team ready for more responsibility? Are they looking to grow? Is this an opportunity for them to step up and me to step back?


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