So, you say you want to be a manager
I’m in the business of L&D at a technology company. When you work with companies that rely on knowledge workers, offering powerful and relevant learning and development opportunities are critical to keeping employees engaged. I have spent the last two years focused on developing better people managers. You’ve probably heard the adage that people don’t leave companies, they leave managers. Maybe you’ve been one of those people who left because of a horrible boss. And even if you stayed, a Gallop poll showed that the quality of a manager accounts for up to 70% of the variance on employee engagement. It’s no wonder companies spend billions of dollars on manager training every year. And after all that training, all those hours spent practicing coaching and giving feedback, all those templates for better conversations … how much better are we getting at managing people, especially in organizations that value instant results over the long- term project of developing people?
At age 28, I moved to Los Angeles to pursue acting which was a bold move considering I had no real background in acting other than one class in college. 28 is already borderline ancient for an actress in Hollywood. I threw myself into acting classes two to three times a week for five years. As I began to gain some confidence in my understanding of the craft, I ventured out into the world of auditions and acting jobs. I thought I wanted to be an actor, but the reality when I began getting small jobs is that I hated the business side of acting. I liked the art form of acting but spending hours to audition only to book a job, and then spending hours sitting around doing nothing waiting for the 10 minutes I got in front of the camera was not my idea of fun. Getting a paycheck that was barely minimum wage when you added up all the hours that went into it was not my idea of success. The truth is my personality was totally the wrong fit for acting; Patience and the willingness to surrender to the process of being one small part of an artistic collaboration are two critical skills for new actors. I had neither skill and no interest in developing them. What I wanted was to discover the artist within, to know myself better and to celebrate life; I am grateful that I had great teachers and learned this via acting even though I never succeeded in the business.
My point in sharing my Hollywood side trip is that I think the same thing happens in the corporate world with management. People think they want to be a manager but don’t always know what they are getting into. Do you love people – like genuinely care as much about their development as your own? Are you happily willing to give credit to your direct reports rather than taking credit for yourself? When you’re exhausted, are you still willing to be 100% present and available to show up as a leader? Are you willing to trust them to do the work instead of doing it all yourself? Are you willing to get to know their unique strengths and growth areas so intimately you know them better than they know themselves? That is the job of the modern-day people manager tasked with developing, engaging and unleashing the power of their people. I know some people are up to this challenge, but not everyone is a fit and no amount of training will change that.
I think sometimes people say they want to be a manager because it is the only real option for becoming a recognized leader at companies. People management is the first tier of leadership roles in most organizations. And I absolutely believe most people crave expanding and expressing their leadership. My theory is we need to find more opportunities for people to be recognized leaders outside of management and make sure those in people manager roles truly understand and accept the responsibility entrusted to them.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on the subject.