How do I transition from a manager to a director role?
April 28, 2012 7:42 PM   Subscribe

How do I get my mind ready to move from manager to director?

I've been a manager for 7 years, both in non-profit and IT. For my IT management work, I've worked as a consultant, basically implementing (and staffing to implement) the strategies others have come up with, no matter how ridiculous I think those strategies are. I've been fortunate to have built a credible reputation in my area, and thus have been able to "overstep my bounds" as a consultant and effect strategic change for clients. In a nutshell: I know a lot about my business, at a very broad level, and can do anything my team does as well as or better than they can. This means, unfortunately, that I know how to do basically everything related to my specialized field, and that my time is equally compromised with minor details (did you find that PDF) as it is with major strategies (the content algorithm should work in x way).

But that's done. I'm leaving that arena for a director-level role with another company--essentially, I will be making the plans that I used to execute. The people trying to get my business will be the former me. This makes my brain melt down.

How do I transition from a high-pressure implementation role to a director role? How do I need to think and work differently? How detailed/involved can I be in day to day activities and still be effective?
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (6 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
In my company, the distinction between managers and directors lies in the breadth of scope. Directors are expected to have the same solid understanding of the projects they oversee as managers, but with an increased understanding of the broader context of the other projects happening in the division -- this role should not only shepherd projects from start to finish, but should also help them dovetail neatly with other projects that other teams are working on. Directors should take more responsibility for big decisions, and make strategic decisions for both the team and within the department. The next step up - VP - should have the strategic view not just of the department, but of the broader company.

Don't micromanage your people. If you have good managers working for you, you should basically be able to give them a direction and let them go, acting as a resource for them when they need or want additional guidance, but letting them do things differently from how you might if you were still in that role. Do give them the resources they need to succeed, give them a clear understanding of their goals, and protect them from the shit that comes down from above.

The details depend a lot on your team. How big are they? How big is your organization? What structures already exist that you need to fit into?
posted by rosa at 8:01 PM on April 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

You know everything, but can you suggest solutions that are not as ridiculous as they sound to other people? That's your big goal in this job, I think.
posted by parmanparman at 8:12 PM on April 28, 2012

I'm in the same boat as yourself, but with a slightly different focus (technical sales vs IT). For me, the biggest thing is holding myself accountable in the same way that I was held accountable by my boss. Interestingly, although shouldn't be surprising, I've found that I'm more committed now that I have a sense of ownership of the department. This "duh" moment has me focused on creating ownership with the people who report to me, and much the same as rosa said, stepping back and letting people do the work with you as a resource, not a task master.

Feel free to memail for more, I imagine we're going through much of the same stuff right now.
posted by felspar at 8:32 PM on April 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

This one management training I had to go to kept saying, "You're in the balcony, not on the dance floor." Which, weird metaphor aside, basically means you need to see the big picture and not micromanage. Any time you find yourself in among the daily details, actually doing the dancing, you're in the wrong place.

I left with important questions about the arrangement of dance halls and their apparent balconies, but I got the gist.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:15 PM on April 28, 2012 [7 favorites]

Your post and the other responses all sound familiar. I run a department that (like IT) serves all of the other divisions in the organization. Serving as the project manager I worked with division directors on helping them implement their plans and in a sense had to make sure that they were happy. Elevation to director initially seemed like a transition in the vertical dimension (letting go of direct work, supervising more), but it took months to realize that the most significant change was in lateral relationships.

It happened when I finally looked across a table and said "look, this is the way you are going to have to do it." My colleagues needed to see me as a person who was involved at the strategic layer, distanced from my old worker-bee layer; then I had the respect needed to do the new job. Since you are moving to a new corporation you should make sure to step into the new role decisively. If you gravitate too much to the familiar work at the managerial level then it might undermine your ability to be perceived as operating at the strategic level where your new boss and colleagues expect you be.
posted by cgk at 11:37 PM on April 28, 2012

Mentoring has an amazing track record for helping people like you. Find a mentor -- or two or three. Ask one of the other directors to mentor you, and look outside your organisation for some other director to mentor you. If necessary, the second person could be a paid coach, rather than a mentor.

Discuss with your mentor(s) what you need from the relationship -- the old american view of sponsor and protégé is not as helpful as the more modern "explore possibilities together".
posted by Idcoytco at 5:57 AM on April 29, 2012

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