businessman, lonely, alone
Emilia Kovalcsik
Emilia Kovalcsik

The loneliness of a manager

For most, becoming a manager is stepping into new territory, and very often, we step into it completely unprepared. I talk to many new managers who are surprised and often overwhelmed by how many new expectations they have to meet and don’t know even where to start.
As a manager, you need to communicate differently, delegate, give feedback, make lots of decisions and manage and develop your team. Focusing on learning and practising many new skills can get overwhelming pretty soon, especially that you probably want to keep the same high quality of work you demonstrated so far, right? Quickly you might realize that there is just not enough time, resources, abilities or willingness to make it all work.
(You can find an excellent post on The Holding Space blog here on how to avoid overwhelm)

Fears of a new manager

When I asked managers what kind of fears they had when moving to managerial roles, here is what they told me:
  • I feared that I would not be good in that position, and my team will not be happy with me
  • I knew that I needed to prove that my manager was right to promote me, and the thought of making any mistakes paralyzed me
  • I was afraid I didn’t have the right skill set for the role and that my new direct reports would think I did not deserve the promotion.
  • I feared losing my previous friendship with my colleagues.
  • I was afraid that I would not know who to go to to get help and answers
  • I did not know what I should be doing differently from my previous role and how to deal with peers who were not happy with me
  • I was afraid and did not know how to ask for help from other leaders in dealing with the challenges of being a manager

Lonely manager

Being left alone with your problems and not knowing who and even how to ask for help came up in conversations with many new managers I work with.
You need to deal with just so many things that even if you have an excellent and caring HR partner and a supportive manager, you are most of the time left alone.
You can’t really consult your decisions at home – either nobody fully understands what you are dealing with, or you don’t want to bring troubles home. 
Your former peers are clearly not the audience you need, and you might not have new peers yet. 
Also, an element of pride can play a part – you might think that as you got promoted, you need to prove that you are well fitted for the role, so asking for help too often might seem like a bad idea.
You might end up having endless and sometimes not very productive internal dialogues as your only resource. After a while, it can cause frustration, bring self-doubt, take the joy of being a manager away, and leave you tired and disappointed.
You might start to feel lonely and miss the times when you had your team’s support, openly discussed everything, asked your manager for help and advice, and did not feel like so many things depending on you.

So how to rebuild your support network?

Being a manager can feel lonely; it does not have to be that way, though. Here are some ideas on rebuilding your support network, getting the help you need, and feeling like you belong again.
  • Don’t be shy and ask for help; learn from your more experienced colleagues. Nobody expects you to know it all on day one (even on day 31, it is still ok not to know it all). All of the NOW experienced managers started somewhere. They went through the same period of overwhelm and a steep learning curve, and most of them will be happy to support you and share their experiences and best practices. Remember, though, to apply what you hear; nobody likes to be asked again and again about the same problem.
  • Find yourself a mentor – check with your HR department if there is a mentoring program in the company and ask to be a part of it. If there is no program – start a conversation and find someone who you can trust and look up to and who can become an “unofficial” mentor to you. Having someone else than your manager as a sounding board for your ideas can be a game-changer.
  • If you want to work with someone outside of the company and be supported and challenged in a confidential and safe environment, start working with a coach. A coaching relationship will enable you to clarify your professional goals and move towards these. Your coach will help you develop your skills, introduce changes and good habits and build on your strengths. If you are thinking about having a coach, feel free to reach out to me.
  • If you rather work in a group and miss having a team, try building a peer network in the company – look around you, is there anyone who might have similar interests and challenges? Maybe invite them to lunch or organize a brainstorming meeting, schedule regular catch-ups to share your thoughts and problems and get a second opinion on your ideas
  • If building a peer network in your company seems impossible or if you want to expand and meet managers from other organizations, you might consider joining an organized mastermind group. A mastermind is built on sharing knowledge, constructive feedback, and support in a safe and confidential environment. If you are interested in this option, I will be running a Mastermind Group for First-time Leaders starting in September. You can read more about it here.
The loneliness of a manager can be hard at times, but it is not inevitable. Think about what it means to you and if it is bothering you at all. If it is, try some of the ideas above and test what works for you.  You might also prefer to work alone – if you feel challenged, supported, and it helps you develop, keep it up.
And I also encourage you to look around and, especially if you are the more experienced manager, show some empathy to the newcomers; maybe your support is precisely what they need now?

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