Why on earth did you want to be a manager?
Remember way back when, when you were put in front of senior management for the first time, and asked that all so simple yet all so important question? The one that’s at least partially responsible for determining why you’re sitting in the chair you’re sitting in now. Since you’re where you are now, I take it that you gave the “right” answer back then. But what is the right answer, really?
Of course, now that you’ve been sitting in the position for a while, you realize that it’s not so much that there are clear right or wrong responses (though in extreme cases either way, there certainly can be). Rather, it’s more about aligning skills, aptitudes, responsibilities, and expectations — and the answer to that question often shows how well aligned the prospective manager is or isn’t for his or her new role.
If you haven’t done it in a while, I suggest sitting down and reflecting on what your original expectations were before you became a manager for the first time, and how, looking back, they were coincident or divergent from reality. Then, use the insights to help you prepare the people on your staff for their future managerial roles.
I’m a firm believer that the best path to success is bench strength — if you want to move up in your career, you better have a few people on your team that can step up and take your place. So, pick your most likely candidates to be your replacement, and start preparing them for that all important question by using your experience to guide them along these four dimensions:
Being the right fit for the job
The most important part of becoming a manager is making sure that it won’t collide with your personality, your values, your nature, and your general attitude. If you’ve never been comfortable in the spotlight, a leader’s position will make you feel miserable at best. If you’re not good at giving out orders, telling people the truth to their face (even if it’s not nice), or delivering criticism and bad news, then you should probably think twice before climbing the ladder. When someone wants to become a manager, checking whether they’re the right personality type is vital for their success on the job. If you have people on your team angling for a managerial promotion but whom you don’t think are the right fit for the job, it’s best to counsel early and often — on things they need to get more comfortable doing, or on a more suitable career path.
Knowing what you’re getting yourself into
Not unrelated, it’s good for prospective managers to know what they’re getting into. Most people who have never had a first-level manager’s role (which is to say, most people) think that a manager’s job is less individual contribution but more responsibility. To the surprise of almost everyone who initially steps into that role, it’s actually about more responsibility and more individual contribution.
Another big thing that falls under this category is perspective. As an ordinary employee you can take on simple views that benefit your own results, and blame management if things go badly. As a manager, you now have to consider all the views coming from your team, yourself, and your superiors — and find a workable outcome. Also, you’re the one everyone will blame now. Make sure the people you’re considering as your replacements have the temperament for that.
Knowing the costs of the new position
It’s not just that you’re the boss now, and so you take the blame if things go wrong. It’s deeper than that. Being a manager makes you immediately less of a peer and more of a boss. Trying to maintain both images equally will sooner or later backfire, either from the company’s side or from the side of your team.
A soon-to-be manager has to think about the cost of becoming a manager, and evaluate it compared to the gains. If they’re having doubts and feel unwilling to lose their “pack”, they may have a problem that will only grow worse with time. Not only are you not here to make friends, odds are you’re going to lose some you made when you were a “regular” employee.
Ambition vs. Contribution
Lastly, try to ask the prospective manager what is it really that drives their will to become a manager. Is it their own ambition to climb the career ladder and the pursuit of power and influence, or is it their vision of improvement and their own contribution to growth and development of their subordinates, and eventually the whole company?
Neither of these two options is wholly good or bad, but it’s good for people to be honest to themselves — and to others — about what really matters to them. Respect, credibility, humbleness, but also drive, decisiveness and high energy are all important for being a good boss. Strive for honesty — it’s a good base for every new relationship, business included.