By Peggy Klaus | New York Times
If you asked all your friends, your family and — I regret to say — your co-workers to talk about their jobs, I think you’d conclude that there is no shortage of bad bosses in this world. Studies have shown that poor managers can cause good employees to leave and, ultimately, can seriously reduce productivity in a workplace.
You can point to any number of reasons for this situation: insufficient training, poor communication, etc. But I say a bad boss is born each time someone goes into management without knowing whether he or she is truly suited to the role. When people are offered a managerial job, they may become intoxicated by the idea of more power and a bigger salary. Refusing such an offer can seem out of the question.
“It’s hard to stop and think rationally when you’re being offered a promotion,” said a former client, whom I’ll call Phil. “You’re flattered. Your boss is telling you it’s a great opportunity, not to mention that it’s really good for the team and will help him a lot. Are you really going to tell him you that you’re not sure if you want it, or that you’ll need some help learning to manage the team and the new responsibilities? I don’t think so.”
Phil, a sales star for a sizable Midwestern manufacturer thought it better to charge ahead and accept his promotion as head of sales for a newly formed territory, rather than to politely decline, even temporarily, or to ask his boss for more time to consider it. The risk that his boss would think that he wasn’t prepared for the job or, worse, that he didn’t want more responsibility, was too great.
Move ahead a year. Phil’s effort at leading the territory proved to be a nightmare. The interpersonal dynamics, the 24/7 monitoring and a near coup in the department made him realize that he disliked managing people and had no talent for it. Maybe if his company had given him more than eight hours of management training, or had coached him through his first three to six months, he would have developed an affinity for the role. Instead, both he and the team floundered.
Many newly minted leaders rarely stop to think about the enormous time commitment and learning curve as they transition from successful individual contributor to manager of a group of diverse people. They often fail to consider the demands of an expanding work schedule; the complexities of hiring, training, supervising and firing workers; or the needs to develop a vision and a tactical strategy, to create budgets or to be accountable for others’ productivity.
The lesson is this: When offered a management position, talk to your future boss, to the person you’d be replacing, to team members and to anyone else who can tell you what the job entails. Assess your strengths and limitations by scrutinizing your performance reviews and asking your boss, mentors and trusted colleagues for feedback.
Reflect on your motivations, then ask yourself these questions: Do I enjoy working with people, helping them to grow and to become successful? Do I handle uncertainty well, and do I mind making decisions without knowing the entire picture? Do I communicate well, in good times and bad? Do I have the time to take this on? If your answers are yes, then you could well have the makings of a good boss.
On the other hand, do you need for everyone to like you? Want immediate and constant reinforcement? Feel nervous about having legal and financial responsibilities for others? Balk at the idea of evaluating or firing someone? Then it’s possible that you’re just not cut out to be a boss.
Before deciding, find out what kind of leadership training the company offers, especially if you are new to management. Will you receive training at this level and for this job? How about mentoring support along the way?
If you decide to take the plunge, accept that being a great manager, or even a good one, is a learned skill. Like many talented professionals, whether N.B.A. players or opera divas, you will become successful by honing the right skills with huge amounts of practice.
Remember, you don’t have to say yes. Depending on your field and your company, there are ways besides management to further your career. One thing is certain: the more you are perceived as really good at what you do, the more options you’ll have to carve out the path you want — whether in management or not.