When we step into a manager's role we usually do so without any preparation about how to become a manager. Somehow by the process of osmosis we are expected to "fit" the position. We may have been excellent employees and shown potential leadership qualities with our colleagues, customers or bosses; but, just because we were excellent employees doesn't mean that we will become successful managers.
We study to become engineers, nurses, social workers, lawyers, accountants, plumbers, electricians (we can keep adding to the list) and through application we become skilled at what we do. Our learning, both formal and informal, is all about our profession or craft and how to apply our skills to the task at hand. We were not taught how to become managers or leaders. Unfortunately, some of us take on a management role when we should have remained in our previous position because that is where we were most comfortable, satisfied and successful.
There are many reasons why employees move into management positions. They could include: the desire to obtain higher wages, more power and influence, or transform systems and processes, or improve team work. In some instances, employees are approached to move up the ladder by a senior manager or employer. Whatever the reason, employees should be prepared for the role, choose it for the right reason, and be aware of their strengths and shortcomings. They need to be prepared for the challenges they will face which require different thinking, focus, perspective, relationships, skills and an added attribute called "art".
Excellent employees pay attention to continuous learning revolving around their occupation. Successful companies ensure their employees are skilled at what they do and invest in courses and programs to that end. When they move into a management role, learning shifts from specific job-related skills to a much broader sphere. Their thinking caps move from the specific technical aspects of their job to the more conceptual requirements of the organization. They now need more knowledge about developing strategies, managing resources, measuring outcomes, and improving products and services. Their thinking role is transformed from job specialization to employee and team development in keeping with the business's overall strategic direction.
Communicating, influencing, coordinating, motivating, setting goals, managing self, delegating, critical decision-making and problem solving, planning, organizing, managing change, and controlling become critical skill sets for a manager. These skills are applied by engaging employees in finding solutions to different company and customer situations, advancing company policy and values, resolving people problems, building and strengthening teams, and negotiating with internal and external stakeholders. What employees now need is a much more expansive set of skills that go beyond specific on-the-ground work.
The relationship with his former co-workers also change as the employee steps into a management position. Many managers try to maintain the same “buddy” relationship they had with their former fellow employees after they step into their new role. This often poses problems for them, especially when they need to enforce unpopular company policy, manage poor performance or take corrective action. Another difficulty often occurs when they feel they can provide information to their "buddy" or "buddies" before it's ready for distribution. In these situations, the new manager gets caught up in a drama that often plays out on the ground floor. A drama which causes rumour and innuendo and ends in a loss of confidence in the manager. The manager's attempt to gain trust using the “buddy-buddy” approach with former co-workers becomes a loss of trust within the leadership team or by the employer.
There are a lot of dynamics going on in the above scenario concerning managerial information sharing. Young managers often confuse the need for confidentiality and transparency, and the use of information as power. The need for confidentiality is generally clear when it pertains to individual personnel matters, but it may not be so clear when the management team (with whom the new manager is now a member) is sorting out a policy decision that may affect members of the new manager’s team and others within the organization. It is appropriate to engage team members in the generality of the policy matter to gain their insight and input (if that is required), but it must be done in a way that doesn’t lead to disruption and discontent. Nor should the new manager use the information as a source of power as in “I know something, but I can’t share it with you.” (a) The situation is further exacerbated if the policy under discussion affects the whole of the organization and other managers do not engage their team members regarding the issue. People talk to one another in organizations, and this is where rumor, innuendo and more discontent becomes rampant. Communication, judgement, discernment and strategic thinking skills are paramount in these situations.
The employee who advances to a management position makes the leap from seeing work from a micro perspective to a macro one. The employee is introduced to broader organizational systems, processes and requirements. The perspective of how things "work around here," changes. The new manager is now expected to think in terms of the "big picture" and develop strategic thinking skills.
There are several forces at work here (yes, it is work): an ability to think long term, connect the dots about activities in motion, synthesize complicated interactions both at the human and systems level, reach a stage within the decision making process that goes beyond what is initially perceived, quickly assess the impact of actions and information on the organization, be aware of the competitive environment as well as those who have an interest in the organization's outcomes, and understand not only "what" needs to be accomplished, but "why" it needs to be done. All leading to a change in perspective.
The primary focus of a manager is the development of the "other." This is a big step from focusing primarily on job specialization. One would think that the essential focus should be on growing the organization and maintaining the company line. Certainly, it is important for managers to promote growth and circle the vision, mission, values and goals of the organization. However, the question that begs to be asked is, "who actually carries out that direction?" The answer must be "everybody," but It finally rests upon those on the front lines who are the "faces" of the organization.
Managers become the conduit and coordinators through which the strategic elements are directed, communicated and controlled. And, he or she can only carry out those functions through the performance of others. So, the focus of the manager is not on himself or herself, it is on the “other”. How the manager performs these functions relate to his or her leadership and management style and the application of the different knowledge, attributes and skills mentioned above.
So, where does the art come in? As managers, we must "feel" the vibes of the workplace culture and apply our thinking, perspective, focus and skills so that the relationships among our team players and colleagues flow with energy and synergy. We become jazz artists taking the lead when necessary, supporting the cast of players as needed, coaching and mentoring performance as required, balancing pressures from above with the needs below and the needs below with the pressures above, and keeping communication, collaboration and coordination in harmony with the overall direction of the organization. Sound simple? It becomes an art form.
So, is becoming a manager just a progression from our specialized work? Or, do we need to be prepared for the role? The answer lies within us, so choose wisely.
Here is an interesting article by Emma Bruder about the same subject from an experiential point of vew: “10 hard truths about management no one tells you about”
Author: Richard P. Fontanie, MSW, FCMC
Up-dated January 9, 2018.
(a) A future article on power and power sharing will explore this topic in more detail.