When you hear people complain about their bosses or watch movies like Office Space, you think: Wow. Managers are really the bane of everyone’s existence. As someone who currently has the word “Manager” in her title, that’s a scary thought. Would it be better to become a doctor (although I can’t stand blood) or a teacher (although I can’t stand snot)? Is becoming a manager a truly worthy profession or just a pain in the neck?
What is a manager?
It’s a nebulous term, but I’ll give it a go any way. For me, a manager coordinates people, budget, and other resources to achieve certain business objectives. To do so, a manager needs diverse skill sets, but some key ones include:
- Influence others: Motivate and move others to action. This requires not only good communication skills but also superb listening skills and high emotional intelligence. It’s not enough to tell people what to do. You have to convince them that it’s the right thing to do.
- Problem solving: Address problems quickly and effectively by engaging the necessary stakeholders while keeping others focused on moving ahead.
- Looking ahead: Identifying potential obstacles or opportunities in the short and long-term. Plan and act proactively upon them to either mitigate risks or capitalize on opportunities.
- Maximizing team’s potential: Identifying strengths, weaknesses, and passions of team members and assigning them to roles that optimizes their chances of success.
Why managers matter?
Managers matter because they all impact our lives in profound ways (as anyone who has ever had a bad manager knows). The above infographic (albeit an advertisement and US-focused) is stuffed with interesting facts. To highlight a few…
- 71% of employees aren’t fully engaged due to strained relationships with their superior!
- Only 35% of people prefer a raise over a better boss, meaning most people value a better manager over more money.
If bad managers can make our lives so miserable, imagine how a good manager could not only improve your life but also our society by inspiring motivated and happy people to achieve great things.
Why have they become such a pain?
If managers could be so important, then why does the profession have such a bad reputation? I think a big issue is how managers become managers. We all start off as grunts in some function (IT, Design, Supply Chain, etc.). We spend hours getting good at doing really detailed work related to the function, whether it’s running Excel models, programming, or designing advertisements. We also get really good at managing up (since we’re grunts at this point and there’s no one to manage down). When we get good enough at our functional skill and when enough time passes, we eventually get promoted to managers. Now, as managers, we are expected to manage people below and budget, which are completely new skillsets that we need to learn.
Therefore, organizations tend to promote managers not for their management ability, but for their functional skills and expertise.
At this point, I think a manager’s success also depends largely upon a company’s performance management process. If a manager’s promotion depends on only his / her boss, then this problem will perpetuate. As this newly promoted manager has had plenty of experience managing up, then the company will continue to promote him / her even if the minions under the newbie manager hates him / her.
How can management become a noble profession?
I think there are a zillion things to make this profession more (positively) impactful, but to (over)simplify here are so key ones:
- Attract more managers that could be good at managing others: They display EQ skills such as listening, compassion, and adaptability and not just high IQ.
- Conduct 360 Reviews: Evaluate managers based on feedback from people above and below.
- Don’t be a pain in the neck: Enough said.