2015-10-02

On becoming a manager

John Baldoni

All too often, people are thrust into management positions for which they are ill prepared and haven't received the training development needed to become a good manager — and the results can be disastrous.


Being a manager requires letting go everything you have been doing to move into a role that requires you to help others do those things. Instead of being an engineer, graphic artist, or reporter, you become a chief engineer, creative director, or editor. Those important positions require management responsibilities, which require you to think differently. New managers often forget the first rule of management: Managers do not do, they enable.


What organizations can doTo prepare their people to become managers, organizations can do a great deal. Consider these key actions.

  • Develop: Grow your manager as you grow your employees. Managers are the linchpins of the organization. While they may be adept at their core competency, they need to learn the skills of management, such as planning, delegation, and evaluation. Keep them learning, and they will pay for their salaries many times over. Forget them, and they will cost their organizations many times their salary.
  • Educate: Send the manager to school. Most business schools have fine executive education programs. If those are not practical, check out the local community college. Many run programs for first-time supervisors for a reasonable fee. They are well worth it.
  • Train: While training and development and even education are used interchangeably, management training refers to the basics of the administrative discipline. Depending on the field, the basics may include courses in accounting, database management, and inventory control, as well as ethics and business law.
  • Mentor: Many successful organizations, such as General Electric and 3M, have very successful mentoring programs. Mentoring programs should begin before the manager assumes a supervisory position, or soon after. Mentoring need not involve a senior leader; it could involve someone in another department one or two levels above the new manager. The point is to allow a relationship to develop. Just like CEOs like to club with fellow CEOs, fellow managers need to spend time with their peers, not simply discussing business issues, but also engaging in practical managerial topics about people and systems.


What managers must doNew managers play an important role in the development process. They are the ones who will make the difference and therefore must assume chief responsibility for their careers. At the very least, managers must follow these practices.

  • Think: A famous photograph shows Thomas Watson Sr., the legendary CEO of IBM, seated at his desk under a sign bearing a single word “Think”. That a consummate salesperson and man of action, not reflection, would embrace the concept of thinking reveals much about him. Watson knew that no matter what your intention, no matter what your drive, you could only be as good as what you planned. And if you want to plan, you need to think. Think ahead. And as a manager, think of the consequences of action (What will happen if I do this?) as well as inaction (What will happen if I do nothing?). That’s turning thinking into an action step and, by extension, a sound management practice.
  • Communicate: People need to know what they are supposed to do and what is expected of them. That is why managers must be relentless communicators who speak clearly, listen always, and learn from what they see and hear. Part of being an effective communicator is being seen as well as heard. Walk the halls. Eat in the company cafeteria. Ask questions to find out what is going on and to demonstrate that you care.
  • Administer: One of the least understood words in the management lexicon, "administration", combines the dexterity of a pianist with the deftness of a magician. Ministers, from whom the word derives, manage the details of projects. The discipline inherent within management is the ability to get things done through a series of transactions.
  • Support: The role of a manager is akin to that of a sports coach. Managers cease to do the actual work — the accounting, the engineering, the purchasing, or whatever. They enable their people to do it. It requires great self-discipline to stop doing something in which you have excelled to take on a support role. In other words, you stop playing the game, and you stand on the sidelines. And like a coach, you are helping others to play the game to their very best abilities.
  • Reflect: Managers are evaluated by their accomplishments: “What did you do today?” However, they often forget to take the time to reflect on what they have done, and how they got there. The former president of the Saturn Car Corporation, Skip LeFauve, an engineer-turned-executive, suggested that managers make time for reflection by scheduling it on their calendars.


The reason to leadA further element of management is leadership. Some say that managers administer, leaders inspire. But you cannot be effective unless you do both. Managers must incorporate elements of leadership into their managerial practice. The most important is a sense of personal leadership, the feeling that “I can make a positive difference.” From that mindset, or really character framework, springs the sense of leading others. Leadership itself is about doing what is right and good for individuals and the organization, about moving people forward to a better place. However, like managers, leaders make hard decisions about people issues: hiring, job assignments, promotions, and terminations. They must also look over the horizon at what is coming next. But, most important, leaders lead from a people point of view, helping people do their work and, in the process, achieve their potential. You cannot have effective leadership without effective management. And often the reverse is true. Managers should aspire to lead, and leaders should respect the discipline of management, because ultimately leadership is about results. And that’s the same as management.


Keep the faithBecoming a manager is, for many, a thankless job. But with the right preparation and the right mindset, it can be a fulfilling career option, one that leads to powerful self-awareness as well as a greater gift, the ability to get things done through the efforts of others. All it takes is a willingness to learn and a commitment to growth and development.


Reprinted with the permission of John Baldoni (www.johnbaldoni.com), chair of leadership development at N2growth, a global leadership consultancy. John speaks widely on leadership and has written 12 books on leadership, including Lead with Purpose: Giving Your Organization a Reason to Believe in Itself.

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