When you look up the word “manager” in the dictionary – or, in today’s world, on an online dictionary – you come up with quite a few definitions. But they all boil down to an individual who usually excels at a few core competencies: Control, organization, administration, creativity, and enthusiasm.
Whether you’re managing an a-list actor, sports celebrity or a household, you need to have a pretty good grip on all of the above.
Managers like the ones just mentioned tend to be highly controlled by the individuals they work for and with – can you imagine being Tom Cruise’s manager? While those of us who manage groups of people in the business world, believe in an idealized world where they hold all the strings, and make all the decisions. Well, those managers with limited experience, anyhow. And they couldn’t be further from the truth.
Consider this quote, from a recent Wall Street Journal article called “What are the Common Mistakes of New Managers?”
“Becoming a manager is not about becoming a boss. It’s about becoming a hostage.”
Those of us who’ve been around the proverbial business block a few times are nodding their heads in agreement. But hang on! This doesn’t mean being a manager is a career goal to avoid. On the contrary – there really is no better way to learn than directly in the trenches and with your boots on the ground.
It just means that it would behoove most new managers to take a more realistic view of the scope of their role.
The Myths of Being a Manager
From the same article, Harvard Business School professor Linda Hill, who studies new managers, breaks down some of the common “myths and misperceptions that lead to mistakes in their early days.” Here are three valuable ones.
Myth 1: Managers wield significant authority.
While you might have been a superstar in your previous position, if you’re a new manager, be prepared to put the brakes on. Your life is about to get a whole lot more chaotic, and more entwined with others than ever before.
As Hill writes about new managers, “They are enmeshed in a web of relationships…Not only with subordinates, but also with bosses, peers, and others inside and outside the organization, all of whom make relentless and often conflicting demands on them. The resulting daily routine is pressured, hectic and fragmented.”
Myth 2: Authority flows from the manager’s position.
Authority is earned, not bequeathed. And that’s usually a bit of a shock to new managers. A title alone does not make one a great leader, as we all know, and the more talented your team members, chances are the more push back and resistance you will get from them. As the WSJ notes, “…good managers find they must earn their subordinates’ respect and trust in order to exercise significant authority. They need to demonstrate to subordinates their own character, their competence, and their ability to get things done before those subordinates are likely to follow their lead.”
Myth 3: The manager’s job is to ensure things run smoothly.
Well….not always. Let’s face it, even managers are being ‘managed’ by someone more senior than they are. In fact, as mentioned above, while your role is to create calm out of chaos, just as you have talented people pushing back against what you want achieved, part of a manager’s job is to create and facilitate their own ‘change from above’ as well.
Hill explains, “…this means challenging organizational processes or structures that exist above and beyond their area of formal authority. Only when they understand this part of the job will they begin to address seriously their leadership responsibilities.”
A manager who focuses only on their small rung on the ladder, without periodically pushing the cultural or business envelope, will find themselves stuck on that rung for a very long time.
If not out of a job completely.