Thursday, January 17, 2013

So You Want to Be a Manager

If you are not yet a manager and aspire to be, think about it before assuming this career track is going to be, in reality, what you imagined. Do you know what you are getting yourself into and are you ready to step up to the responsibilities required of a good manager? 

I admire young professionals who aspire to be promoted to a management position. For most people it is a logical career track. If you have performed well and regularly develop your professional skills, it is likely you will not be satisfied unless you are also advancing your career, so promotion into management is generally expected. Toward that goal, most professionals seek advanced and management training whenever they can get it. Some companies offer and provide management training, and some do not. With cost cutting measures that confront company budgets, even larger companies are reducing the training options available. Whether or not management training is provided by an employer does not define the effectiveness of a person's ability to lead and manage people. What does make the difference most often is the attitude and motivation of a manager. A new manager goes from being one of a team to becoming the leader of a team. How this is handled is important and will have a long-lasting effect for all involved. There are those who try to remain friends and seek to interact as though little has changed. It doesn’t take long for them to find that strategy does not work. Others do the complete opposite and detach themselves from their former co-workers and think being authoritarian is a better approach. So, you can easily see a balance must be struck and each situation is different; therefore, strictly relying on book learning without actually developing people skills isn’t going to make it any easier.   

Whether during my professional career or years previously spent in the military, I have witnessed with elevated interest what exemplifies a good manager. I think that after many years interacting with thousands of people at different levels possessing many different skills, working with hundreds of companies and managers at all professional  levels as a consultant since 1992, I could argue that I have a measure of expertise on the subject. Frankly, I have little interest in the academic perspective of management and leadership because bookwork and studies can help to prepare you, but it is what you do with the knowledge and the character of the individual that matters most. It’s your ability to deal with people that differentiates a leader from a technocrat. A skillfully balanced combination of both is best, but given the choice, I would rather see a person who had good people skills and leadership abilities than someone predominantly steeped in academic book knowledge. 

But there is another problem that I see too often. People who seek a position of authority, or those who have been selected, sometimes assume management is defined by telling people what to do. In other words, they want the title of manager, they like the increased pay, but they are either overwhelmed by the responsibility, or they have a naive perception that ordering people around equates to leadership and responsible management. Their business card may have the title, but is that enough, of course not. Yet, I am aware of people like this who think a promotion and an office with a window is all that is necessary and voila, they are a manager - why - because their business card says so. I have seen too many who hide behind their job title but, for some reason, they are either unwilling or incapable of managing the people they’ve been tasked to lead. Why is this? 

I have never understood what I view as an obsession some have for gaining a higher level, grade or position, without sufficient forethought of the responsibility a company has entrusted to them. Furthermore, some people can have good training and still be totally inept with how they deal with people. Perhaps they have forgotten what it was like to be a subordinate, or possibly their ego has clouded their perception. Unfortunately, some individuals simply have an inflated view of their own people skills. I know this addresses a supposed small minority of managers, but we all know, or have known people like this which means it is too common. So let us assume some of those inherently bad managers are beyond help and, frankly, they don’t recognize they need any help. In such a situation, subordinates who report to that person can only hang on until they are eventually liberated when management realizes their mistake. For anyone who wants to improve their management abilities, Fortune 500 Company sponsored management training is not necessary to improve oneself. All that is necessary is a conscience and a will to learn and improve. Most aspects of management are simple common sense and we always hear about what makes a good manager but it's also worthy to note and expose substandard performance. I have found most poor managers fall into these categories:

·         Selfish – They are only concerned with their own situation and if they do show concern for their employees, it is usually only to protect themselves and their own status.

·        Unprepared – This does not refer to formal training. Instead, I am speaking of people who have a false perception of what they thought management would entail. They are shocked when they realize it is not only about barking orders from their office. The concept of leadership is something they did not anticipate.

·        Unwilling – They resist making the commitment to do what is necessary to elevate themselves and their skills to a satisfactory level.

·         Incapable – Some people are simply not capable of handling managerial responsibilities.

·         Misled – Perhaps the position was misrepresented by the employer.

I could make a longer list and perhaps you would suggest additional examples, but let's move on. If you aspire to having management responsibilities, is it really necessary to say you should be reading and preparing yourself? It is the same for someone who is already a manager and feels overwhelmed. If you are a manager and your boss is doing little to help you to develop, there are so many resources available that nobody has an excuse not to improve oneself or find helpful information. I have a few books that are my favorites, but anyone can do an Internet search, where you can find hundreds of articles and book titles.  

As for my advice, I will say only that if you have an actual interest in the people for whom you are responsible, these criticisms are not meant for you. If you are not only concerned with yourself but, in reality, you truly care about the people for whom you are responsible, as well as the company for which you work, you will no doubt improve. Your first position of responsibility over other employees can be rewarding. However, one should never forget that regardless of how far you may rise within an organization, your decisions impact not only business, but affect others – it is an awesome responsibility. One should never jump to the decision declaring interest in becoming a manager without thinking ahead to what it means to your career and those affected. Be careful what you wish for, be prepared, and never stop developing yourself and your skills.
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