You are ready to take on the next assignment in your career – and you have a choice. You can continue to be an individual contributor, or you can become a manager or supervisor. It may be that becoming a manager is expected in your organization. Becoming a manager may have more future advancement potential and a higher compensation scale. But is that all there is to the decision? Absolutely not! Becoming a manager can be a rewarding career – if it is a fit. Under the best of circumstances and with the best teams, it is a hard job. It should never be entered into lightly or casually, and should be a thoughtful, well-considered choice.
To determine your fit for a management position, consider the potential benefits and issues. My top questions include:
- Are you truly interested in becoming a manager? Be honest with yourself on this! If you are considering becoming a manager because you believe that is the only way to a higher salary, then find a different role. Being a manager is hard work and any salary increase you will quickly discover usually doesn’t make up for the additional responsibilities. Your job as a manager is to get the job done through your subordinates/team. That means both enabling them to get the results as well as removing barriers to them getting the results. You will have to update your definition of ‘getting work done’. As an individual contributor, getting work done can mean knocking things off of your to-do list. As a manager, you may spend your entire day meeting with your team, listening to them, encouraging them, correcting them – and not get one item on that to-do list checked off. Your time is no longer your own – it belongs to the team.
- What is your purpose and does being a manager fit with that? Knowing your purpose gives you a basis for determining if this is a fit. For example, my purpose is ‘helping people help themselves’. So, a position where I can train and develop people fits my purpose. However, if a position was offered to me where it is just me doing the work – with no opportunity for enablement of others – that wouldn’t fit my purpose. Being a manager must fit your purpose or you will make yourself and your subordinates miserable.
- What do you have to give up to be the manager? As a manager you are no longer ‘one of the gang’ and there are different expectations about behavior. How you behave will be evaluated against the standard for ‘management behavior’. You also have to assess your relationship with your team, given that you would be responsible for giving them positive and negative performance feedback. This can be especially challenging if you would be managing people who used to be your peers. This is one of the most difficult transitions to make as a new manager. It requires both sides to be able to recreate the relationship from peer/peer to boss/subordinate. Many organizations, in order to avoid this situation, require new managers to shift to a new group.
- Can you shift from doing the work yourself to getting the work done through other people? This question has so many facets – including fear and perfectionism. This can be one of the most difficult issues to handle when transitioning to be a manager. It is expected that there will be some fear. It feels like your career is out of your hands and has been put into the hands of your team. You have to trust yourself and the team – and let go. Simultaneously, your perfectionism must be examined. An unmanaged perfectionist is hell as a manager! They either only see what didn’t get done or what wasn’t perfect. Or, they resist delegating work to their subordinates because it isn’t done their way. Or, they see a subordinate struggling and then rip away the work to ‘do it themselves’. Fear and perfectionism will only get in the way of creating a good team atmosphere. Many managers fail because they don’t get these two handled.
- What else is going on in your life? The transition is challenging, the job requires a new set of skills, and it will take more of your time than you think it will. Managers are frequently on call and can’t always leave the work at work. They are expected to be available. A critical consideration is whether or not becoming a manager fits in with how you want your life to work. Having a spouse/partner and children and completing an advanced degree, while working full time as an individual contributor is a lot. It won’t get smaller by becoming a manager. Guilt is a great way to evaluate this consideration. If you currently feel guilty about home when you are at work, and guilty about work when you are at home, then it will only get more difficult with the new demands of being a manager. As my colleague Susan says, ‘You can have it all! Just not all of the time.’ Perhaps, your answer to being offered the management position isn’t Yes or No – but Not Now.
- Are you willing to reinvent yourself? This may be the most important consideration of all. The transition to management requires you to think about yourself differently. You must also develop skills that are different from your technical expertise. It is easy to fall into the trap of continuing to do what you did as an individual contributor and just pile the management responsibilities on top. That isn’t sustainable and will just have you working 18 hrs per day. You must be willing to look at everything and evaluate how it should be done by the manager, adopting a new perspective and new behaviors that empower and enable the people who work for you. You have to step back and let go. You must redefine how you bring value to the team and the business.
Management isn’t for everyone. Movement into a management position should be considered thoughtfully and carefully. Done well, you will be able to accomplish more than you ever thought was possible because the whole team is greater than just the sum of the parts. Harvard Professor Clayton Christensen said, ‘Management is the opportunity to help people become better people. Practiced that way, it’s a magnificent profession.’ Make your choice thoughtfully, deliberately, and conscious!
We’d love to hear your considerations about moving into a management role. Next month we’ll continue this topic and discuss what to do to accelerate your management transition.