Monday, March 1, 2021

Management is a New Career

Actions to take: Take your managerial development into your own hands. Your industry likely fails to genuinely acknowledge that a separate set of skills is required for management. Spend time every single week intentionally seeking out and reviewing developmental materials. 

Generally in a career, you build skills from one job to the next. The skills from your previous job provide a foundation to help you succeed as you promote. Using an example from my field, picture the bottom rung of the library profession, the shelver. They learn the rules for organizing books and learn parts of the software for checking in, placing items on reserve, sending books to other locations for pickup. Over time, those processes become like second nature. They promote to desk clerk. Here, they get to see the organization process from the customer perspective a little bit. They add to their understanding of the library system software. The get a more complete understanding of the collections, what gets purchased and what doesn't. Finally, they promote to professional cataloger. The cataloger has to understand the system at a much deeper level than either of the previous positions. But it is easy to see how the previous jobs help prepare the employee for cataloger work. There is a direct line from the shelver’s tasks to the desk clerk’s tasks to the cataloger’s tasks. 

Management is not like that. The work you do as a manager does not really use the skills you learned in previous jobs. People get tricked into thinking it does. You're still talking about the same work, so you can get by for a while. You know the details of the work your employees are doing because you did the work yourself. You probably know their work very well--there is a reason you were promoted to management, after all. 

You can get by on that expertise for a while. People are happy to follow you "because you know best" for a while. But it won't work like that for everything. It won't work at all the moment you transfer locations. Those new employees don't know you. They won't automatically trust that you are an expert worth listening to. 

You need other tools in your toolbox. You need to develop your relationship power toolbox. That is what you did not learn in your previous roles. This idea that management is a totally different career, we don’t really acknowledge that. When I say we, I mean practically all of humanity. Yes, people might pay the idea lip service. They might say stupid platitudes about getting thrown into the deep end. But we don’t do anything structurally about this fact. We promote people to management, watch them splash around and almost drown, and say “that’s just how it works” because we had to do the same thing ourselves. 

That is stupid. It is maddeningly stupid. A big part of my motivation to write this blog comes from my frustration that the world works this way. It’s a painful, cruel process that isn’t even particularly effective.

That isn't how it has to happen. What is the typical scenario when we change careers? Maybe you're a teacher that decides to become an electrical engineer or vice versa. The answer: we train, often for years, before taking on that new role. We learn what skills are necessary for the job. We practice those skills before it matters so that we can do the job adequately when it does.

Management is something else, but your career is not set up to acknowledge that. When you get your first management job, you’ll be thrown into that deep end, and there won't be a lot of people coaching you on how to swim. You need to prepare for it yourself. Set aside time every single week for professional development. Find managerial resources: books, blogs, online courses, seminars, everything. Critically assess the advice you hear. And, most importantly, apply it. If you fail to change anything about your work, then the learning is pointless. 

Your organization is not going to do this for you. Better bosses will do it for themselves. 

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