Saturday, November 15, 2008

Why do you want to be a manager?

Recently, a friend and I discussed an opportunity he has to become a first time manager. As we spoke, I relayed some conversations I've had with employees who have wanted to become managers.

Typically, employees approach me with something along the lines of "What do I need to do to become a manager?" I suspect they expect me to enumerate a series of skills or development needs. Perhaps a course or two, and presto - they are now manager-ready. This is a reasonable expectation, since rating systems almost always focus on the skills required to do a job, get promoted, etc.

Management, however, is not primarily about skills (although skills matter). It's about motivation. I mean, what is the motivation behind someone wanting to become a manager. The question isn't about what, it is about why.

And that is precisely the first question I pose: "Why do you want to be a manager?"

Believe it or not, I can usually tell within a matter of seconds if the person will ultimately make a great manager. Let's start with a few responses that tell me the person isn't ready to manage:
  • I want to have greater influence
  • It seems like the next step in my growth
  • I want to be able to control (insert any number of things here)
  • I think I'm ready to manage others
  • I'm very good at what I do, and think I can direct others to be as good

On the surface, these are reasonable responses. That is, if being a manager is all about the manager. But it's not. Managing is about the people being managed, not the manager.

Read that last sentence again. It's not about the manager. Most of the time, people possess a very "me" centered approach to management. That isn't going to work in my organization.

So, what types of responses indicate that someone is ready to manage? Here are examples:

  • I love coaching
  • I want to help create an environment where people can achieve more than they can without my guidance
  • I want to help people grow and be challenged
  • I love helping people succeed

This set of responses is focused on service to others. That is what great managers do. The first set of answers are given by people destined to remain managers. The second set of answers are given by your next generation of leaders.

Is there no hope for the first set of folks? Of course there is hope. I suggest you send them home with a simple assignment: Have them write down the reasons why they want to become a manager. Don't set a time limit - leave it to them. In some cases, they will never return. That tells you everything you need to know about them.

Others will report that they changed their minds. These are people you might be able to coach. Ask them what changed their mind. If they spent time reviewing their reasons, they have demonstrated the ability for self-reflection. You may have to tease it out, but you may be able to guide this person towards a service oriented approach to management. In some cases, people understand this approach, and realize that they would rather stay self-focused. At a minimum, you now know that you have someone who is willing to look inside themselves. They may not be ready today, but keep your eye on them for the future.

The last set of folks will return with their list. This is where your management ability matters. These are the folks who truly want to grow (or they would have not taken time to complete their homework). Usually, you will be able to show them a bias towards self, and reinforce the value of service orientated management.

I'm not saying that these folks are slam dunks.

Some will remain "me" centered. It is up to you to help them understand that management is a service to others. If they can't or won't understand this view, then you have to decide how much damage to the team you are willing to inflict. You also might want to look inside and assess what style you are projecting. They are getting their perception of management somewhere.

When you have an employee that values helping others, you have a potentially great manager. This is a person to nurture. Reinforce the values through your own actions with her or him. With the correct orientation to management, now you can begin a discussion about the skills that must be developed or built on.

These folks are rare. So when you find one, cherish them.


Gea said...

great article, made me re-think several things. thanks

John Michle said...

Its really informative, some facts and other points given here are quite considerable and to the point as well, would be better to look for more of these kind for efficient results.

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