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3 tips for first-time managers

May 19, 2015, 4:00 PM UTC
Courtesy of Skillsoft

The Leadership Insider network is an online community where the most thoughtful and influential people in business contribute answers to timely questions about careers and leadership. Today’s answer to the question “How do you go from a worker bee to a decision maker?” is by John Ambrose, senior vice president of strategy and corporate development at Skillsoft.

I’ve seen a lot of young professionals–particularly those currently entering the workforce–start a job immediately eyeing the corner office. However, I remember when I was a rookie first entering the working world, it took me awhile to understand what defines a decision maker, but I knew it didn’t happen overnight. Looking back now, everything I did–right or wrong–helped shape my career, but there are a few things I wish someone would have told me along the way:

Not all skills are created equal
Each job requires a different set of skills and most include a mix of hard skills (defined and measurable) and soft skills (more personality-driven traits). To move up in the workforce, employees need to develop both. However, not all skills are created equal, and it’s often the intangible soft skills that separate good workers from good leaders.

Knowing how to communicate sensitive information; understanding how to manage up and manage down; learning how to motivate the individuals around you–these are the soft skills required to turn a great worker into a great leader, and it’s never too early for young professionals to start looking ahead.

Learn for the job you want, not the job you have
We’ve all heard the adage, “dress for the job you want, not for the job you have.” Well, this also applies to learning and development. It’s important to master your current role, but if you have your sights on a leadership position, an equal investment needs to be made in developing the intangible skills that characterize a leader.

Take an honest inventory of your strengths and weaknesses, and identify the areas you need to improve to reach the next level (and the level after that). Then develop a plan of action–through training sessions, mentor programs, and any other resources available through your employer. If you’re not familiar with what resources you have at your disposal, start by checking with your HR team and go from there. Also, don’t feel like you always have to stay within your company–look to industry organizations or alumni networks for additional opportunities, such as seminars or community forums.

Drive your own growth
It’s important for workers to look at their professional development through the right lens. Rather than seeing certain responsibilities it as “above and beyond” or “nice-to-have” view these stretch opportunities as an exciting and valuable investment in yourself. Your manager might not require you to take a certain learning course as part of your current job, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t pursue it. Use it as a stepping stone into for your next role.

For instance, when seeking a promotion, it’s up to you to make it happen. Too often workers stay passive and wait for instructions from their managers on what steps to take next—don’t. Get in the drivers seat and figure out the steps you need to take.

Ultimately, there are no shortcuts to leadership, because becoming a leader is in part shaped by the successes and failures you experience along the way. As Vince Lombardi, American football player and coach said, “Leaders are made, not born. And they are made just like anything else, through hard work.”

Read all answers to the Leadership Insider question: How do you go from a worker bee to a decision maker?

Why leaders need to focus on how they treat employees by Gary Vaynerchuk, co-founder and CEO of VaynerMedia.

Why your job title doesn’t actually matter by Ryan Smith, CEO of Qualtrics.

Why this CEO believes you should be more opinionated at work by Sarah Kauss, CEO and founder of S’well.

How to be more bossy at work (in a good way) by Joe Hyrkin, CEO of Issuu.

The advantages of a tough boss by Sunil Rajaraman, co-founder of

How to smoothly transition from a colleague to a managerby Nir Polak, CEO and co-founder of Exabeam.

4 signs you’re ready to be a manager by Dominic Paschel, vice president of corporate finance and investor relations at Pandora Media.