So, you want to be a manager. Maybe you’re ready to expand your career. Maybe you are full of new ideas that will benefit you, your company, and your coworkers. Or maybe your boss has recently noticed your expertise and floated the idea by you. There are so many reasons people step into management. It can be a rewarding and incredibly challenging next step that can quickly take someone from feeling confident about their skills and experience to feeling like it’s their first day on the job.
In a lot of ways, management is a pretty unique job. Being the best widget maker on the planet does not necessarily make you the best manager of widget makers. Widget making and management may require incredibly different skills, and to be successful in management, those skills must be deliberately learned, practiced, and prioritized.
I learned everything I know about management in my past life as a teacher. As I’ve changed roles, transitioned careers, and stepped into digital marketing, I’ve found that the successful management of students and their education is not all that different from the successful management of adults and their professional projects.
Regardless of the work setting, management requires a clear and measurable vision and the ability to motivate others to work hard in pursuit of that vision, even if they don’t necessarily find it all that visionary. Both require a balance of listening to others, seeking advice, delivering feedback, receiving feedback, and taking ownership over the success of the group. And finally, all contexts of management require a deep commitment to improving the lives of the people you manage.
From the classroom to the workplace, below are the three main pieces of advice I’d give to anyone considering a management position.
1. Take an Internal Inventory
Before accepting or seeking out a management position, ask yourself: Is management truly the best fit for you? I stepped into management rather early in my career and, admittedly, I was swayed by the glamor of the role: the title, the compensation, the influence. I was ready to make big changes and achieve big things. I was not, however, ready for the responsibility that came with it. I was not ready to navigate my new role with people who were more like friends than coworkers. I was not ready for the backlash when my big ideas overwhelmed and irritated others. And I was not ready to balance my workload with helping others balance their own.
Before stepping into a management position, consider:
- Do you enjoy working with other people and helping them solve problems?
- Are you comfortable taking responsibility for the failure of projects?
- Are you comfortable holding others accountable?
- Will you still find success rewarding when the glory goes to the people you manage rather than yourself?
If your response to these questions is ambivalent or you find yourself thinking, “No, I want to expand my technical skills or improve the product I work with.” Then, maybe you want to consider career advancements that allow you to work on bigger projects or take on more technical responsibility.
This is especially possible in the world of digital marketing where there are always more complex problems to solve. Diving into your area of expertise to be the most technical expert on the team or an influential thought leader in the industry may be the path for you.
Management is only one option for career advancement, and there should be only one reason you step into management: because you care about the people you work with and believe you could make their professional experience better, easier, and more rewarding.
2. Master the Art of Being Direct
Without question, the hardest part of management is providing clear and direct feedback to the people you work with. We’ve all seen managers try their best to circumvent this uncomfortable reality in various ways.
There is the vague, generalized feedback that’s directed at the group but only applies to a few people. “If we could all try and start our shifts on time, that would be great.”
There is the apologetic feedback. “Hey, I hate to have to mention this, but I really need you to start your shift on time. Again, I know you’re busy and I hate to stress you out, but I’d really appreciate it.”
There’s the delayed feedback that comes up in annual reviews, and worst of all, there is the feedback you hear indirectly from other people.
All of these forms of feedback are problematic and erode trust within a group. It is difficult and awkward to say, “Hey, I noticed you’ve arrived late to your shift three times this week. Moving forward, please make sure you arrive at least five minutes early so you’re prepared to start on time.” However, providing this kind of clear, direct, and timely feedback is an art form you must master if you’re going to be a successful manager.
Like any craft, it takes practice and commitment to excel at difficult conversations. I highly recommend the book Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most by Douglas Stone for anyone looking to improve their ability to navigate challenging conversations with peers, coworkers, employees, friends, partners, parents, or even children. Difficult conversations are a fact of life. Knowing how to engage in them with purpose and empathy to reach solutions that serve you and the other party will strengthen your ability to manage and support others, both within and outside of the workplace.
3. Be Relentless in the Pursuit of Your Vision
Lastly, it is important to be relentless in your pursuit of the vision you set for yourself, your team, and your company. People are motivated by clear, actionable, and meaningful goals. As a manager, you have the opportunity to set those goals for others and be the catalyst behind achieving extraordinary things.
This is one of the best parts of management. It can be so energizing to see people come together and work incredibly hard in pursuit of a vision you set. However, the opposite is also true. It can be incredibly devastating to lead people down a path destined for failure because the vision you set was not backed up by careful planning and measurement. There is nothing more stress-inducing than working for a manager who has lofty goals but lacks the ability to manage people and projects in a way that achieves them.
To be successful in setting a vision, you must feel comfortable determining roles and responsibilities for team members, communicating clear deadlines, and holding team members accountable to the expectations you set. After all, you’re the visionary who brought your team on this exciting journey, you also need to be the shepherd that safely guides everyone over the finish line.
At the end of the day, you are responsible for your team. There is a difference between empowering others to make decisions and putting the success of your vision on their shoulders, leaving them out to dry without direction. One is collaborative management, the other is gaslighting, and never has that led to long-term success.
Management is hard, but it can also be incredibly fulfilling work. With dedicated practice, patience (with yourself and others), and good mentors to guide you along the way, you may find that through management you’re able to achieve big things, improve the lives of the people you work with, and ultimately find a bigger purpose in your work.