5 leadership traps new SEO team managers should avoid

5 leadership traps new SEO team managers should avoid

Going from an SEO professional to a manager of an SEO team, you need to shift your mindset, lean into your new role, and build trust with your team. 

Moving from focusing on your own output to your team’s needs can help you succeed in your new role. 

Transitioning from an SEO professional to manager

Moving from an individual contributor to a manager is a difficult transition on your career journey. 

In the book “The Leadership Pipeline,” co-author Ram Charan highlights the career transition points from individual contributor to manager of a team and on to leading managers. 

The first change from “leading yourself” to “leading others” is a huge shift. It requires taking on a new mindset as you move from relying on yourself to relying on and coaching your team. 

While intimidating, moving from an individual contributor role to leadership is extremely rewarding. 

The role of a manager differs from your daily responsibilities as an SEO. The overall training is likely not there as you must figure things out for yourself. 

You were promoted to management because of your past success and expertise, which are all based on your output as an individual. 

The assumption is that because you succeeded as an individual, you’re set up (or will figure out how) to lead a team. 

The bulk of the training available for new managers is the technical HR items:

  • How to fill out HR forms.
  • Approve vacation.
  • Filling out the annual performance reviews. 
  • Navigating the internal HR platform.

When I earned a promotion to a management position, I first contacted several managers, directors and VPs for their advice and references to management training.

There was no in-house training on being a good manager, coaching and developing employees, or any behaviors that I equated to “good” management.

It took some time, but I found a peer group of managers to talk to, some podcasts to listen to, and a set of resources to help along the journey to manager and leader.

To be successful in this step in your career journey, you’ll need to master a new mindset, communicate clearly and enable your team to succeed.

Using the principals from the Leadership Pipeline, you are making a transition from leading yourself to leading others:

Leading Yourself (IC) Leading Others
From To
Results from your own efforts Results from your team’s efforts
Understanding what you need to deliver Setting clear objectives for your team members to deliver
Being more productive Making your team more productive
Planning your work Planning work for the team
Being self-motivated Motivating your team
Developing yourself Developing team members

Adapting your mindset from maker to manager

As an individual, you achieved success through your own expertise and exceptional performance in your role. 

Dig deeper: Your guide to the first 90 days as an enterprise SEO director

Your measure of success shifts from your accomplishments to your team’s accomplishments. Each key point of “Leading Yourself” has a team-focused pair.

Now you focus on getting your team members to work on leading themselves while you gain expertise in leading others.

Moving to a management role requires that you embrace the mindset shift. 

You need to lead the work instead of being the best individual SEO.

Instead of your own efforts, you’re judged on the efforts and outcomes of your team.

These are scary for new managers. 

You have to rely on your team to perform. That’s scary.

You also have to shift to learn new communication, management, and leadership skills. (That’s scary, too!)

Because of that, managers often will fall back to their old behaviors. 

We like to do what we’re good at and generally avoid things that cause us stress. 

When you’re in the transition phase from individual to manager, you’re learning entirely new behaviors and redoing how you work. 

At this phase, you’ll likely be tempted to revert to your individual ways and fall into common early management traps.

Common traps new managers fall into and how to avoid them

Trap 1: Fixing mistakes rather than teaching how to do it right next time

When I first became a team manager, there was a transition period where I wanted all of the work done the way I would do it. 

That meant I was redoing much of my team’s work or spending time on it to get the output where I wanted it.

I quickly realized that I needed to work more on helping my team get better than polishing up their work myself. 

Instead of working on individual outputs, I shifted to communicating expectations and feedback on the work so they could level up. 

How to avoid this trap

Your team was hired for a reason. 

Your job is to coach them and help them improve. If they’re at 80% of what you could do. Your job is to coach them over time to get better.

Instead of fixing the work, have one on one review sessions where you walk through their work and discuss the opportunities to improve. 

Ensure you are clear on expectations for your team’s output and document as much as possible into a knowledge base (wiki, checklists, procedure documents).

Trap 2: Trying to do everything yourself and not letting go of the jobs you used to enjoy

This is another instance of not letting go and seeking comfort in doing what you know you’re good at. It’s a trap I still find myself stumbling into. 

There’s comfort in taking on a task or project and knocking it out just how you want. Getting it done – and knowing you’ve still got it – feels good. 

The downside is that you’ve taken away two development opportunities:

  • For you to grow by working on your communication skills to detail the project goals and what is needed. 
  • For your team to grow by delivering the project.

How to avoid this trap

There are often times when you are a “player-coach” and have to lead projects yourself. 

However, you should look for opportunities to delegate as much as possible to your team. 

When your boss asks you to get a project done, they’re asking for the project to be completed, not for you to be the one to do it. (Your team is an extension of you in this case.) 

Unless you are asked to be the lead, look to delegate to your team members.


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Trap 3: Trying to still be ‘one of the team’ rather than leading the team

This is especially difficult when you’re promoted from being in a team to leading a team. 

It’s one thing when you’re the go-to or expert on the team, it’s another when you’re giving the performance reviews at the end of the year.

While you don’t want to turn off all empathy and humor, you do need to shift your behaviors with the team. 

Your role is now that of a manager and leader, with responsibilities to hold individual team members accountable for their behavior and work. 

New managers are often concerned with being liked by their team rather than providing the coaching and feedback needed to help the team perform best.

How to avoid this trap

Ensure you’re communicating clearly and setting expectations. 

Based on engagement surveys, teams want leaders to communicate with them and hold individuals accountable. 

Strive to create a culture of accountability where everyone still feels valued.

Trap 4: Not dealing with performance of behavior issues early

One of the unfun aspects of being a manager is dealing with performance issues. 

Very much like trying to “be one of the team,” managers avoid dealing with performance issues because it’s uncomfortable, and they want to be liked.

If you have a behavior issue on the team, you must address it immediately. 

If you don’t, it will become a larger issue and will be more difficult to address in the future.

How to avoid this trap

Have a one-on-one conversation with the team member immediately about behavior or performance issues. 

While it may be uncomfortable for you, not addressing it will impact your entire team. 

Your high performers will resent it when you don’t address behavior issues. 

To them, it’s a signal that behavior doesn’t matter, and you’ll have retention issues on your hands soon.

Dig deeper: The SEO career path: What it may look like and how to level up

Trap 5: Not giving enough (positive) feedback

The opposite of not dealing with performance issues, managers, in general, don’t provide enough positive feedback. 

This is the feeling of “no news is good news,” but that leaves your team unsure of where they stand.

When left with no feedback, team members may feel the worst. 

What you mean to be tacit approval (i.e., “You’re doing a great job and don’t need an intervention”), your team member may feel is a criticism (i.e., “I’m doing such a bad job he doesn’t want to speak with me”).

Manager Tools, a management resource I use, provides specific guidance for when and how to provide feedback.

How to avoid this trap

Know that your job is to build up your team and help them perform better. 

Feedback and coaching are essential tools to help your team members achieve more. 

Take notes of positive behaviors and bring those up in your one-on-ones or feedback sessions. 

Be on the lookout for the behaviors you want to encourage and let your team members know you saw the behavior and that it’s valued.

Example: 

  • “Thank you for taking notes at the meeting and sending them to the team. When you do that, it shows me that you’re engaged and keeping us organized. Please keep doing that.”

What to do as a new manager 

What should you do now that you know about the traps to avoid as a new manager?

It all starts with building relationships and earning trust.

When you earn your role as manager, you should take time to go on a listening tour. 

Schedule one-on-ones with each team member and your key stakeholders. 

This is important even if you’re being promoted and you already know all of the people. 

The beginning of your time as a manager is the time to get out, have discussions and set up new relationships as the team manager. 

You’ll find that conversations with stakeholders and partners from other departments shift. You’ll be discussing not what you can do but what your team needs to deliver to be successful.

Having one-on-ones with your team members is also important for establishing a new relationship. 

In these meetings, it’s best to ask questions about them, their goals, and their work so that you clearly understand your team.

I hope you’ll embrace the journey to leadership. It’s filled with challenges but very rewarding as you can accomplish so much more through your team than you can do yourself.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.

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