Saturday, June 6, 2009

Why Become A Manager?

Many people don't understand or don't have a clear image of what means to be a manager so, I thought, it would be nice to drop in a few lines on the subject as I see it.

Beside the normal plan - organize - monitor - adjust activities and the tons of emails associated with them, for me the most exciting part of being a manager is where I interact with the team; it's the feedback, motivation, conflict management, team building, developing others activities that I really like.

A manager is "somebody who gets results through people", so one of the most important part of the job is... others. Many people would like to be promoted not because they want or have the skills to be managers, but because they see the job as a recognition for their good work and this should not be the case. The language doesn't help much as "promoting" means going up where being promoted to management means taking on a totally different role. It's a new job altogether, that can be a real pain for somebody who doesn't have the inclination or the drive to do it. It's the "best salesman" syndrome. You take the best sales person you have and you promote him / her as the manager of the sales department and, as a result, you loose a great sales person but you get a poor manager.

Unfortunately, the career paths in many companies don't help much as the management paths are well developed whereas the specialist paths may be not.

At first glance, the management career seems to be much richer and filled with opportunities. However, the best places to work are those where diversity is encouraged, where there is job rotation that don't allow people to become bored at work (e.g. after three years as render programmer, an engineer is promoted to... network programming and after that sound and so on). These places encourage horizontal move and cherish expertise. Good managers realize that creating an aura of glory for every job and for anyone that is performing great is the way to go and by doing so they make sure the talent is best used, people are motivated and come to work with pleasure. They encourage diversity, new ideas, teamwork (instead of competition for the manager's chair), innovation and respect among peers. 

Some companies don't respect specialists too much. Sometimes great engineers are placed in some obscure corner, on small desks, when even the most junior manager has a bigger desk with natural light. Sometimes, engineers are not listened to and their opinion is not taken into consideration. Fortunately, these companies tend to bleed expertise and they soon become dry out of talent - natural selection, I guess. Even more, as organizations tend to flatten, less bureaucrats are needed and more emphasis will be put on highly qualified, high performing individuals. Not respecting or not paying enough your engineers is a deadly sin these days.

Organizations that cherish talent become more agile as management is moving from "paperwork" to genuine leadership and more managers spend their time making sure their star performers get all they need to perform (google "servant leadership"). Today good managers are those who are able to service their teams, to create a place suited for innovation, motivate individuals to do their best, lead the way by finding new opportunities and let the spotlight fall on their teams instead of their own ego. This, I guess, is the manager of today and tomorrow. What do you think? Is it for you? And don't think about the paycheck as in today's business world money is tied more to talent than to position and if you are not extremely good at what you do, no matter what that is, nobody is going to pay you anything (and the reverse is true also).

To sum up, my opinion is that you should become a manager if you like working with people. Not just being friendly to them, but to actually strive to create a better place for them to grow, become creative and also let them get the glory. Don't become a manager if you like your technical job or if you are the "do it yourself" kind of guy; choose a technical path instead, as technical paths will become more and more valuable as companies strive to innovate in order to survive. Find a company that cherishes creative talent and you should be safe and happy.

One of the main difficulties that arise when an engineer is promoted to management is that the main reason he or she was promoted is because he or she is seen as a person that "gets stuff done". As a manager, on the other hand, he or she needs to let this habit go and make sure that others "get stuff done", which is very different. Most likely this is why so many managers find it very difficult to properly delegate, thus frustrating their employees. 

Other articles that shed some light on leadership / management:

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