Everything you didn't learn in school that will help you survive the world of work. A place for newbies, for working moms, for seasoned professionals and "free agents" to share strategies, tips and tales from the trenches.

Oct 20, 2005

Want to manage? Consider these five things

By Ms. Trienta Y. Heureux
Director of Department Zed, Geldstrafe College

I am a manager.
I manage people, programs, money, staff developments and staff meetings. I hire, I fire, I hold people accountable, and I tell them when they’ve done well. I make decisions, sometimes going against what others think. I am able, and sometimes required, to make people do things that they don’t want to do, don’t think make sense and actually, in some cases, hate.

I manage up.
I deal with politics, with relationships, and with protecting my office and my staff. I manage those above me in areas different from my own who still believe that because they are higher on the hierarchical chart, they can tell me how to do my job... even when they have no idea what they are talking about. Then, I make sure that I work well enough with those people so they still respect me, my office and therefore, my staff. If I don’t represent my office well, and people lose respect for it, my staff suffers.

Oh are the woes of the mid-level manager. Because, women, let me tell you, there is a difference.

Manager is a broad term, and as you aspire to become one, make sure you know what you are getting into. Who and what do you manage? Will you be in a management sandwich? Just because you are managing others doesn’t mean you have any power whatsoever. It might mean that your life is miserable, because the manager above you makes all the decisions and you are left playing both sides in the middle.

So, as you move through your career and you begin wondering how to get in charge of something and stop being someone else’s lackey all time, here are some words of advice.

These are in no particular order because frankly, I don’t think in any particular order. (A downfall for a manager, really.)

Don’t become a manager before you are ready.
How will you know this? Well, subscribe to some self-awareness. Seriously. Sit down and have a nice long chat with yourself. Write it out, talk out loud to your best friend or your mom, or talk to yourself. It doesn’t matter, as long as you consider whether you have what you will need to manage other people.

These aren’t plants, people. They aren’t cats or even dogs (who, I think, are hard to manage). They are other human beings. They have lives, worries, problems, varying skill levels and are different than you are. They will not necessarily act as predicted. They will not necessarily make decisions in a way that makes sense to you.

You might have to fire someone. Can you do that?

Are you ready to bring someone your own age or older than you into a room and tell them to stop wearing flip-flops to the office? A good test: can you tell your roommate that her pans in the sink are annoying? Or do you just let it go because you can’t deal with the fact that maybe she won’t like you anymore? There’s your answer about whether you can manage another person.

Don’t think that because you are a manager, people will finally give you the credit you have deserved all these years and stop questioning everything you do.
It just won’t happen. In fact, it’s possible the questioning will get worse because you are making much more important decisions.

When you are signing the form that spends $13,000 for the spring event down payment, and when you have to go to HR to talk about why your incompetent assistant needs to go, people will question you. You have to be clear about why you have made the decision and have the gumption to stick by it. A waffler won’t get far. If you can’t explain yourself, soon the questioning will grow.

Play nice with others.
So this is probably a no-brainer, but it really isn’t. Lots of people are incompetent and inefficient and even downright stupid. (Look at George W. Bush for evidence. But I digress.)

The thing about managing is that you have to be at least nice enough that people will want to work with you, your staff will respect you, and want to do good work with you.

I am not a nice person. I am blunt, judgmental, cheeky, and even offensive. I tell it like it is. I have to work hard every day to make sure that people don’t hate me. So don’t think this advice is coming from Ms. Candy Sunshine. It’s not. ‘Nuff said.

Don’t think being a manager means having to do “less work."
This, apparently, is a common misconception. While the staff is toiling to make sure the programs succeed and the big event is successful and the sales quota is met by working extra hours, the managers are also working.
Apparently, we don’t do a good enough job at telling everyone else how we are working.

We have to figure out the bottom line. We have to manage the money. We have to manage the staff. An inordinate amount of time is spent dealing with staff who are either underperforming, having issues, or making mistakes (that then have to be managed to create as little damage as possible).

We have to communicate. I believe this is one of the biggest downfalls of management nationwide. We don’t tell those “below” us what’s going on enough. There are limits to this and timing issues, but it should be done better and more often. (I do. Gets me in trouble sometimes, but I think it’s not okay that this doesn’t happen more.)

Remember it’s still only work. Don’t take yourself so seriously.
Yes, other people’s lives depend on your decisions. You do their salary raise recommendations and you do their performance reviews. You are a role model. When you come in and when you leave and how often you bend the rules will be noted by other people and they will follow suit.

You will think of something you forgot to do while you are in the shower, out running, in the movies, at dinner with your friends, or halfway through your fifth beer in front of the game on Sunday afternoon. Figure out how to do your job well, but still have balance in your life, still maintain your relationships, and still remember it’s only work.

So many people forget this. They don’t take vacation. (I had to write a letter to HR excusing one staff member who has accumulated over 250 hours of vacation time and can’t figure out how to use it up, and he’s not even a manager yet – if I had that time, I’d be gone for 2 weeks every three months or so.)

A recent anecdote I read said to always remember Rule Number 6: Don’t take yourself so seriously. (The other 5 rules don’t even exist, this one is so important.)

In my book, these are the top five. There are a million more, in actuality.

Many people spend their whole career outside of management, either by choice or by circumstance. Many people aspire to be in management without a reason -- except that society says that’s what we are supposed to aspire for. Some people spend 80% of their career in middle management while others climb very quickly and spend 80% in upper-level management. Almost nobody, I believe, had a plan. People don’t make an active decision to be where they are, but instead find themselves there.

Be different.
Do think about it.
Make a decision.
Only get the next degree if you intend to use it and only intend to use it if you want to. (Yes, money is part of the issue here, I know. Take that into account as well.)

Long story short, be clear with yourself and those around you. Don’t wake up when you are 40 (or 32 for that matter) and wonder where you are and how in the world you got there.

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