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Are you looking to take the next step in your career by moving towards a leadership role? Are you already in a leadership role & are looking to promote someone you think is ready?

Many people think that they are more than ready for that “Step up” but most are not prepared for the surprises they are about to experience!

Being good at your job is one thing – and it is usually one of the main criteria that management uses to gauge who might be ready for increased responsibility. Unfortunately, being good at your job does not make you good at overseeing the efforts of others.

Here are seven of the biggest surprises most of us face when we take that big step – hopefully, by being aware of them you will be better able to prepare yourself (or someone else) for what lies ahead!

Surprise One: Trying to Run Everything, in Detail is a Recipe for Disaster

As a new manager, understand that you can’t be directly involved in every detail of every project that your team is going to be working on. Trying to do that will cause work to bottleneck around you, you’ll become exceptionally stressed, and your team’s effectiveness will nosedive!

Your perspective has to shift from getting things done yourself to getting things done through other people. How to avoid this surprise? Try this;

  • Learn that delegation is your friend – you aren’t the only one that is capable in your team.
  • Only attend meetings that you really need to attend.
  • Don’t jump at participating in tasks, instead stay informed of their outcomes.
  • Do not make too many decisions for people; when people come to you with a question, ask them what they think they should do.
  • Give people the guidance and resources that they need to do their jobs themselves.

Surprise Two: Issuing Orders Reduces Effectiveness

As a manager, you need to work towards a situation where you don’t need to tell people what to do. You need to trust them to make the right decisions.

Some people may doubt their ability to make decisions. When this happens, they’re likely to come to you for your approval. Whilst this can be flattering (to be seen as the person with all of the answers) it actually contributes to the establishment of dysfunctional teams, due to a dependence on the manager.

In a similar way, overruling decisions or making last minute changes can waste a great deal of time and resource; and it can also undermine your people’s confidence.
You can avoid these problems by;:

  • Communicating your organisation’s vision and values, keep people informed, and train them so that they have the confidence to make decisions, based on what’s best for the organisation.
  • Create systems and structures so that your people understand what needs to be done.
  • Teach people how to make decisions – provide them with tools that support this process & show them how to use them.
  • Let people know that mistakes are part of the development process, and that you’d rather they take some risks than be indecisive. (Clearly, this may not be suitable in all types of work, so use your best judgment.)
  • Trust & support your people

Surprise Three: People are Reluctant to Let You Know What’s Really Going On

No one wants to give the boss bad news. So, often the information you get is not, necessarily, reliable.

However, you need accurate information to manage effectively, so you’ll have to gather information from as many sources as possible.

To avoid the problems associated with this surprise:

  • Keep in contact with your people, have regular but informal conversations with them.
  • Don’t stay locked in your office – have a wander around & quietly observe what is happening.
  • Talk to customers and suppliers on a regular basis, and build strong relationships with them.
  • Communicate with your stakeholders often to ensure that you know what they’re thinking (& remain clear on what they want & need).

Surprise Four: You’re Always “On stage”

As a manager, your words and your actions hold a lot more weight than line staff. People will try to interpret whether your words or actions contain any hidden messages. Your mood will also affect your team, and everything that you say will be analysed.

You must lead by example, whether you want to or not! Be careful about the example that you’re setting, and be fully aware of the messages you’re sending – intentional & unintentional.

You can minimise the problems associated with this surprise by;

  • Using simple, clear language when you communicate with your people.
  • Seek feedback – don’t assume that people have grasped the real meaning of what you’re communicating.
  • Think about your body language – learn how to use it to support the meaning of your message.
  • Be a good role model for your people – lead by example.

Surprise Five: You Also Have a Boss

You are in charge of your team but there is someone going to be in charge of you! There will always be someone that you need to report to, so don’t get caught up in your own importance.

As a manager, you should know who you need to keep informed, and you should work hard to gain the support of people around you. Think about how you want your people to treat you, communicate with you, see you & then transfer those behaviours into the way you interact with your management.

This helps your people understand that how you expect to be treated is the way you treat others in a similar position.

To avoid the problems associated with this surprise:

  • Learn how to develop effective relationships with powerful people in your organisation.
  • Find what the people that you report to need & work hard to provide it.
  • Share information and resources on a regular basis – both with your team, and with others.

Surprise Six: It’s Not Easy Being in the “Middle”

Your boss will not always understand your team the way you do. Typically they have other priorities that may conflict with your own.

For instance, should company profits outweigh safety concerns? Should you push your team to finish a project unfeasibly early, because your boss is putting pressure on you? If an executive is behaving inappropriately with one of your people, when should you decide that enough is enough?

Making this type of decision requires some serious thinking & courage.

To help you deal with this surprise try these;

  • Take some time to understand your personal values, map how they align with company values.
  • Be aware of where alignment is not present (& decide what best to do about it).
  • Understand the vision of the company and what it stands for. Make decisions based on that vision and those values.
  • Reward team behaviour that promotes these values.
  • Develop a clear strategy for your team, and ensure that it’s aligned with corporate strategy.
  • Attract and recruit people in your team who fit the vision and values of your organisation.

Surprise Seven: You’re Not Perfect

Even the best managers make mistakes, and people around you will still have opinions that are different from yours.

Being a manager makes you more responsible – the buck stops with you! So be prepared to demonstrate this responsibility.

To avoid the problems associated with this surprise:

  • Don’t make this about you – reward the people around you who make you and your team look good.
  • Be accountable to yourself.
  • Be self aware & remain connected with colleagues, family, and friends.
  • Remind yourself to find the balance you need to be the best you can be.

Michael Porter, Jay Lorsch, and Nitin Nohria were first to identify the seven surprises for new CEOs. In this article I have looked at how these apply to managers more generally. The transition to manager is almost always a more significant challenge than people expect. However, by being aware of these common misconceptions and the issues associated with them, you’ll increase your chances of being successful.


The Communication Commando is Dennis Hall. With an MBA in Marketing Management he has been involved in the online environment for over 15 years. He helps local businesses develop sustainable online marketing programs by applying a strategic focus to laser target what a business needs to be doing & when. He can be contacted at

Posted In: Business Relationships

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