Is it always tough at the top?
April 2, 2012 5:26 AM   Subscribe

Does managing former peers make management harder or easier?

15 months ago I asked this question about whether or not to take a promotion. I took the job on secondment and found it to be enough of a challenge that I stayed. I'm still in that role and have found I'm pretty good at assigning and appraising work and recruiting new people, even managing thorny personal issues that occaisionally affected individual members' performance, but line managing former peers has been pretty stressful. Our team is mostly seen as exemplary in the work we do, and we seem pretty close-knit from the outside but it is taking a toll on me personally. I find the management position is often weird and alienating and I don't like feeling responsible for people I was formerly pretty close to (in a work context) - especially when having to manage problems. I've had great reports from my own manager and my team reports an improvement since I took over but I have no idea if the reason we hang together so well is because of our history rather than my management ability. I also feel a bit stifled - the secondment status means my areas of authority are really unclear and I'm not sure I like being away from the satisfaction and visibility of front line delivery.

However we're just in the final phase of the project that started my secondment so had planned to stick it out until July, when the role will be reviewed and either made permanent (in which case I would need to apply to remain in post) or eliminated. If the role was eliminated or if I applied and didn't get it (or didn't apply at all), I would go back to my former role/pay within the team. In truth this looks pretty appealing - there are new projects arising that I'm interested in and I'd probably be able to shape my former role to focus on those areas without being responsible for everyone else. I'd take less work home and stop angsting about stuff beyond my control (because that's what the manager is for!). The pay difference is less than £2k and I could absorb it.

So far so good but I've now been offered a more senior position at another place. I applied out of curiosity - I didn't think I'd actually get an offer and now I have to way up the pros of staying in a job I can step back from, or move on to something completely unknown but with greater management responsibilities. It looks like a great opportunity - the company is more prestigious, the pay is much higher and more in line with a management position and the benefits are great but I feel burnt out by the current post and am worried about going further down that line. There are definately areas of management that I enjoy but I don't know if it's for me in the long term.

I need to give New Company an answer this week. Can anyone lend any perspective?
posted by socksister to Work & Money (5 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Peers or no, managing people without true authority is truly exhausting and horribly difficult. It is even more difficult when you are promoted above peers and then have to be mindful of the fact that you might become peers again. Don't let your awkward situation cloud your feelings about management. The fact that you are thriving despite these difficulties means you are likely a fantastic manager. I have seen many, if not most, managers fail in much more favorable situations. I would say you should do some soul searching, but think about the day to day you really want in your job. Management us not easy, but it is very rewarding, and it gets a lot better when you are trusted with the actual authority of a manager and have the full respect of your team. That only comes with time and experience in a leadership role, so if you want that to happen for you, I would not suggest backing away from a leadership role i'm your next foray. As someone who reviews a lot of resumes, I can tell you that might look a little red flaggy.
posted by pazazygeek at 5:48 AM on April 2, 2012 [2 favorites]

If the new job has defined management authority and better pay, you will find life gets a little easier. You can delegate responsibilities as you see fit to ensure your plate is not too full and you won't have to worry about peer/management dynamics. It sounds like a good fit personally.

As an aside, if the reason you are taking things home is you're managing in addition to some or all of your former responsibilities, this is probably why you're so burnt out. Typically, these bridge-type management positions are a really great way for an organization to get two people's workloads out of one without compensating for it.
posted by Rodrigo Lamaitre at 5:53 AM on April 2, 2012 [2 favorites]

The fresh start sounds awesome, honestly, and will eliminate the worry of having to dance around previous colleagues who might become colleagues again. You can't really manage effectively that way; what if you wind up having to reprimand one of them for something??

Also, seconding Rodrigo Lamaitre, if your current position is like all the other officer-to-manager positions I've ever seen, you effectively doubled your workload, didn't you? A clean break to a new organization where you're not expected to do two jobs will also help alleviate some of the stress.

Good luck!
posted by LN at 6:45 AM on April 2, 2012

Managing peers is always hard. You want to perceived as their equal when you're hanging out and like their boss when you're working, but they always want to perceive you as their equal. When you move on to a new job, you'll no longer have to worry about that tension. You can just be a manager.

On the other hand, if you truly hate managing people, you will hate the new job too. But it doesn't really sound like you hate it - its sounds like you hate managing people you used to be friends with, and you miss having an impact on front line work.
- Can you figure out how you feel about managing only the people you've hired or that have started in the last 15 months and were never your peer?
- Can you find out if the new job will include more of an impact on front line work?
- Can you assess the impact on your career of 'going backwards' to a non-management decision within your current department? Will that lack of momentum hurt you in the future?
posted by Kololo at 7:42 AM on April 2, 2012

I was promoted from a work group of approximately 15 people. We all worked in one room together, so when I got promoted it took a real effort on my part to draw the line between myself and the other staff. Once I became liable for the rest of the team's screw-ups, I had to start interacting with them in a slightly-more-professional capacity.

I got promoted again and moved to a new site and was surprised to find that it was even harder to manage strangers. At least with the old place, everyone knew I was a hard worker and trusted my decisions. When I arrived at the new site, the staff were slightly-hostile and I really had to put my foot down to "claim" my authority. They didn't know me, they didn't know my work ethics, and they didn't trust my role because the previous manager screwed things up royally.

So my personal experience is this: managing peers and managing strangers are both hard work, and both have their pluses and minuses.
posted by tacodave at 3:10 PM on April 2, 2012

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