Transition from Individual Contributor to People Manager

Sangeeta Wakhale

Senior Manager Engineering at athenahealth


Conquering the Challenges of Moving to a Manager Role From an IC

I joined the company as an individual contributor (IC), after a short span of time I was asked if I could transition to a management role. However, there were several reasons why I was skeptical about accepting the management role:

  • I was scared, I would lose my technical domain knowledge. At that moment technical expertise was my strength and doing something else was like going away from my strength.
  • Being an introvert, I felt that I was not ‘the people’s person’ that my teammates were looking forward to in their manager. It made me feel reluctant on how I would communicate with my direct reports or deal with their emotions in need.

After one and half years, I was asked one more time to try out the management role. With the option to try out the role for six months, and if I did not like it at all, I could go back to my IC role, I accepted the offer.

Since it was a small team that I had to manage, there were some technical aspects left for me to keep my domain knowledge up to date.

A Desire to Move Up

Given the ample options that I had, I could not wholly back out of the situation. However, accepting the responsibilities of a manager was not sufficient; I had to work on myself. To begin with, I started taking some courses via LinkedIn. There are enormous courses on LinkedIn for individuals who want to make a move from IC to manager and also on leadership which helped me a lot.

Moving forward, I read multiple books on leadership, which made me pretty confident to deal with my direct reports in a constructive way. What I found to be incredibly helpful was “Emotional Intelligence 2.0 by Travis Bradberry”, “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” and “First Things First” by Stephen Covey. The insights from the books indeed helped me build myself to be the manager I am today. Reading books and taking courses helped me in my professional sphere and helped me build a network outside of my organization.

In an effort to become a better leader, I also joined Toastmasters International, which enhanced my presentation skills, leadership abilities, and soft skills. I found myself fostering initiatives and in a “pro-active” thinking position within the organization.

Within the grind of it all, I also took an online leadership course from Harvard Business School. Again, it was not only a course but a lot of valuable insights into what leadership is all about. To dig deeper into the concept of leadership, I learned how it’s not only about getting work done but so much more about enabling others to do the work.

More importantly, through the courses, I learned one of the most critical aspects of leadership: how to provide constructive feedback and its importance. Getting exposure to how feedback works both ways was an essential part of my learnings.

Wrapping up

  • Try out something outside of your comfort zone, and you will reap the benefits of it. It creates space for creativity and helps you respond to situations when unexpected things happen.
  • If you love reading, make books your best mentors. Normally, authors come from various backgrounds with different experiences, which helps the readers learn from those experiences.
  • Always give some time for your personal development and it will come in handy with your new skills for some new project or for some new opportunity.
  • Observe and grow. Take a look at people around you — whether it’s your direct report or your manager — and get an idea about their qualities, personality traits, strengths, and weaknesses. It will enable you to understand them better when working with them.

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Sangeeta Wakhale

Senior Manager Engineering at athenahealth

Leadership DevelopmentCommunicationLeadership TrainingMentorship ProgramsPerformance ReviewsFeedback TechniquesTechnical ExpertiseCareer GrowthCareer ProgressionSkill Development

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