“It’s lonely at the top,” they say, but unfortunately, lived experience is a much better teacher than a metaphorical (albeit insightful and somewhat inspiring) mountain visual. And more often than not, it’s an experience that new managers are unprepared for.
While receiving a promotion and landing your first managerial role can, and should, be a time of celebration, it’s the unspoken struggles that we often hit head-on when we so bravely jump into these types of experiences. And it’s the lack of support available to leaders during the turbulent adjustment phase that often leave managers wishing they had stayed in their previous role.
The team atmosphere and camaradery that were once part of your day-to-day are replaced with additional responsibilities and direct reports. Whereas you used to run to your colleagues for support, a laugh, or a good vent session, you now feel the pressure to put up a facade of well-being and resilience for your team – even on the most difficult of days. Now, the only other manager you can turn to, despite being empathetic and a great ally to have, doesn’t necessarily know your team, nor understand the ins and outs of your day to day.
Though you might be struggling to pinpoint the emotion that’s taking it’s toll on you, it may very well be grief. While we typically tend to think of grief as being associated with death or the loss of a relationship, it can also take the form of regret for something lost. Grief often includes physiological distress, separation anxiety, confusion, obsessive dwelling on the past, and apprehension about the future – both what it holds, and how you are going to handle its challenges. Intense and unprocessed grief can have even more detrimental effects, such as immune system disruption and thoughts of suicide.
Identifying with this scenario doesn’t mean that you have made the wrong choice, or landed in the wrong position. This experience is more common than not, and giving yourself the space to grieve the loss of your previous position and the support system you once had can actually be the most important step forward.
Understand that you have made a significant change in what your day-to-day looks like. The increased expectations combined with feelings of isolation can make it feel like you’re in the wrong place. Seeking support and talking through these feelings can help carry you through the adjustment period. A mental health professional or close friend can be great to confide in, but reaching out to your own leader or someone else in your organization with a similar role can be a fantastic way to start building a new support network.
Very simply, placing a label (both literally and figuratively) on the emotion that you’re experiencing can help create some distance between you and that emotion. If it feels like grief, for example, try writing “grief” down on a piece of paper and setting it down on a surface a few feet away from you. Visualize this emotion as being an experience external to you, and one that will pass with time. Mindfully acknowledging it and treating it with compassion can serve as a reminder that it doesn’t represent who you are; it’s just what you’re experiencing in this particular moment.
Reaching out to your reporting team for 1-1 chats, and connecting with them on a human level can provide a strong sense of relief for the loss of the support network you once had. Remember that all relationships change and evolve with time, and these relationships with your team can be just as profound and meaningful as ones you had with your previous colleagues.
There’s a very subtle, but important difference we need to make between a change and a transition. While a change is a very sudden, external event that typically starts and ends rather quickly, a transition is a much more gradual, psychological reorientation in response to that change. And it requires time and patience. If we hold onto the grain of truth that things have become easier over time with previous transitions we’ve experienced, and that they more than likely will again – we might just be able to make it out the other side with a little bit more ease.