How can I decide if I'm management material?
September 23, 2005 1:17 PM   Subscribe

How can I decide if I'm management material?

My boss, who I'll call H., gave notice a couple days ago. He's moving on to a similar position, but with broader scope, at a similar company, so it's a step up for him.

I mentioned this to some people, including my mother, who asked me if I was planning to apply for the job. I honestly hadn't thought about it, and told her so. She said not to sell myself short, and that I'd make a good manager, even though "management has its challenges." (She's recently retired, but was a manager in a different field for 30-35 years.) I mentioned the idea to my girlfriend (no management experience), and she said I'd make a good manager as well, saying that I'm honest, fair-minded, and committed.

I had never entertained the thought of moving into management, because I never thought of myself as particularly being a "people person", and because I don't relish the idea of having to be the bad guy upon occasion. (And I most definitely do not want to be two-faced, but would have to resist the temptation to tell people what they want to hear or at the least put the best spin on everything.)

However: I've been told repeatedly that, despite my protests, I am a people person. I also have sold myself short before, and after being pushed/goaded/convinced, have gone on to succeed in ways I didn't think were possible. So I may be overly harsh in evaluating myself, or I may be clear-eyed. I just don't know.

Lots of background, because I'm posting this anonymously:

Our department has a bunch of people (maybe 20) that all do the same thing -- something that is moderately technical and hard to describe without getting into specifics. (There's a creativity/problem-solving component to it as well. I'd say it's roughly analogous to technical writing.) I'm one of these twenty.

I report to H., who is the department manager and who's the guy who's leaving. He does the budget, hires and fires, does some scheduling of the day-to-day/hour-to-hour operations, goes to department and division meetings, does performance reviews, and for all I know a bunch more stuff.

There's also a supervisor, who I'll call K. K. does the bulk of the day-to-day/hour-to-hour operations and scheduling. He has input on things like budgets, hiring decisions, and performance reviews, but he also reports to H. K. is the person who sets my daily schedule, decides which projects I (and the rest of the twenty) will be working on, et cetera. I've filled in for K. a few times -- not as much as some other co-workers of mine -- and was told I did a very good job. I enjoyed it, but it was challenging -- solving rapidly changing logistical problems while people kept coming up to you and asking you unrelated questions. (I've never filled in for H. -- typically K. fills in for H. and then one of the twenty of us fills in for K.)

H. used to have a job like mine, and eventually became a supervisor like K., and then moved to our city where he became the boss. (I used to work with H. when he was a supervisor, in the other city. A few months after he moved here and became the manager, he recruited a few of us to move here.)

H. has an odd relationship with lots of people. Many in our company dislike him -- he can be really gruff and brusque, especially to people who don't work in our department. He's gruff all the time, and half of the time it's concealing a heart of gold, and half the time he can be a real jerk, even to our staff. The problem is, he's mercurial, and you don't know which H. you're going to get at any given time. However, almost everything that's been good in my career, including some high-profile projects and business trips, came about as the direct result of H. -- he's given me good reviews (and pretty good raises), recommended me for things, and generally looked out for me.

He's done this for other people, too -- I'm not the teacher's pet. But I can't exactly love the guy or hate him.

(Everybody gets along well with K.)

The idea of being a manager is intriguing. I'm not sure whether to pursue it. How can I figure out if it's right for me, or if I'd be a good one? I'd have to decide how much I'd miss the work I'm doing now, which I enjoy and am fairly good at. I'd have to figure out how to handle co-workers' reactions to my changing role, being on call more, going from hourly rate to a salary (no more overtime) and the like.

And of course, if I apply I'm not sure how much of a shot I'd reasonably have at the job. Ordinarily, I'd talk to H.'s bosses (S. and his boss E.), both of whom I'm friendly with and have worked with for a while, but since they're presumably going to be deciding who to hire, I don't think they'd be willing to have an off-the-record conversation about my career and how suitable I'd be for this kind of role.

I assume K. will be applying for H.'s job. I think he'd do a good job, but he's quieter and not as forceful as H. He's popular with the staff, and morale would go up if he were to get H.'s job, and other people in the company who H. rubs the wrong way would probably be pleased as well.

S. and E. could go outside the company, however, and bring in someone else for H.'s job, or bring in someone else from another city where our department operates.

I am also wondering if I should apply for K.'s job, if K. gets hired to replace H. Again, I don't have as much experience in filling in for K. as some on our staff do, but I have some. I could do the job, but so could others.

So: How can I make all these decisions? How can I figure out if I'd be a good manager, or if that's indeed what I want? How can I figure out if it's worth applying for either H.'s or K.'s job? How can I tell if it's reasonable for me to apply? What questions should I be asking of who? What should I be thinking about?

Again, apologies for the alphabet soup and exhaustive background, but I won't be able to comment in the thread without blowing my cover.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (17 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Sorry to pick only one issue out of many you raise, but I suspect that you may be wrong that S and E would not be willing to discuss the issue with you. Despite your statement that you aren't a "people person," it seems like you're generally liked and have good relations with all these people. I bet a casual inquiry into the hiring process and something along the lines of, "if you're willing to consider me, I'd love to take on a greater role here" would be well-received and would draw some helpful feedback.
posted by mullacc at 1:51 PM on September 23, 2005

If you never step out of your comfort zone, you'll never learn what you're capable of. You've got nothing to lose- even if you don't get the job, people know that you're interested in moving up.

It sounds to me, given the thought you've put into your situation (and this post), that you want this job, and you're just second-guessing yourself. It's natural, just don't let it sabotage your ambition.

And of course, if I apply I'm not sure how much of a shot I'd reasonably have at the job. Ordinarily, I'd talk to H.'s bosses (S. and his boss E.), both of whom I'm friendly with and have worked with for a while, but since they're presumably going to be deciding who to hire, I don't think they'd be willing to have an off-the-record conversation about my career and how suitable I'd be for this kind of role.

No, you absolutely want to do this. Actually, it should be your first move. There's no conflict of interest or anything.
posted by mkultra at 1:56 PM on September 23, 2005

How can I figure out if I'd be a good manager, or if that's indeed what I want?

By doing it. Management is something that must be done in order to be understood. Apply for H.'s job. You might get it, and you might not. If you don't, you're out nothing. If you get it, you'll get management experience.

If K. gets the job, apply for K.'s job. You might get it, and you might not. If you don't, you're out nothing.

You have nothing to lose here. Go for it!
posted by rocketman at 1:56 PM on September 23, 2005

How do you make all these decisions? It seems that you are sufficiently interested in it, and the length and detail of your post shows you've already given it a lot of thought.

I doubt you'd lose your current job if you don't get the manager's position.

How do you know if you can be a good manager? Think about the managers you've had, and what things you liked in them and some things you'd swear you'd never do.

How many hours do H and K typically work a week? If it's a salaried position, and they are in 50+ hours a week, plus being on call, then you need to evaluate if the extra salary is worth it.

Being a manager is not necessarily a Leader of Men and Women. It's a job. It can involve leadership, but than any position can. You can approach it as a leadership role, which is not necessarily a bad thing (and it seems to you do equate manager with leader to a certain extent), but don't let the weight of self-imposed responsibility crush you out of even giving it a try.

In short, give it a try. Talk to H and K, or their boss, and tell them you are interested. Head over to Human Resources and let them know, as well. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain, so go for it. What's the worst that can happen? You'll find out that you don't like being a manager, and find another position. No big deal.

Good luck.
posted by luneray at 2:01 PM on September 23, 2005

I just started in a management position in April. I was hired from within the department and a lot of others within the department also applied. Be prepared for back biting and gossip about you after you get the position from others that did not. Also be prepared to be shunned by some of the people in the group that you normally worked with. You are now "the man" and no longer one of them.

Taking this job has felt like I have started all over, straight out of College again, with no clue what I am doing on a day-to-day basis. It is very frustrating. I look forward right now to it getting better. I realize this is sounding very negative, but I am in the transition period that you will most likely go through once you get this position. Some days are better than others, and everyone tells me I need to give it a year before I decide to stop.

You will learn a lot about yourself after you do this. Go for it and don't look back.
posted by internal at 2:16 PM on September 23, 2005

It sounds like you don't want to apply because you might not get the job. Silly. We've all applied for jobs and not gotten them. That's the way it works.
Even if TPTB decide someone else is better suited for this job, they know you are interested in moving beyond your current position and they'll remember you when another opportunity comes along.
posted by clh at 2:17 PM on September 23, 2005

Just applying for the job and going through the process of discussing your career and how you fit within the company shows all of the management that you are interested in advancement. That's good, because it puts you on their radar if something comes up that they think might be a good fit for you. It also reminds them that you are a talented individual who might start applying for better jobs at other companies, so they'd better take good care of you.

Even if you don't get the job, expressing interest in it and positioning yourself as a serious candidate is a good thing for your career.
posted by MrZero at 2:49 PM on September 23, 2005

If you're looking to universally win, you can't be a manager. Good management is not a popularity contest. It's a positive achievement process handling people as well as projects. (or damage control at times).

You've filled in for K. K will be applying for H's job. He is more qualified than you are, has filled in the specific position, and probably knew that H was leaving. You might be able to handle K's Job. And, if I was K, and they promoted you above me, I'd likely be pretty pissed (unless I was content or didn't want to advance.)

K is a key person. He can make H's job easy...or near impossible. When S and E sit around..they'll likely think about whether or not K can handle the gig. If not, they have to go outside the company...because promoting you breeds discontentment from K and the rest of your group who has your job.

Bonus, you're not sure you'd enjoy management (just because you're good at something doesn't mean that you'll enjoy it.) You haven't had a ton of experience at it either.

The personal question you have to ask yourself is: did you enjoy management more than the job you do. If'll look at K's job (so is everyone else that has filled in.)

Sure, you can apply to H's job, but you're unqualified (unless you're been taking some management classes).

If you have a good relationship with K, you might want to ask him what he thinks of H's job, if he's applying....and whether or not he thinks you could do his job.

If K get's H's job...and doesn't think you can do his current position'll never get K's job (nor H's. They'll ask him what he thinks of you no matter what.)

You might want to express interest in management, that while you're not ready for H's job, you'd be interested in K's job, if it opens up (or if a lateral position at K's level inside of your company opens up.)
posted by filmgeek at 4:04 PM on September 23, 2005

The comment that really struck me was your girl friend's statement that you are honest, fair minded, and committed--essential characteristics for a manager--if you have these characterisitcs go for it--being a successful manger requires a clear understanding of priorities, a willingness to give information honestly and accurately, the ability to depersonalize conflict to confront dissapointment (yours and others) and (not insignificantly) make decisions--the length/tone of your question suggests you may have a bit of difficulty making decisions and that brevity is not a strong point--good luck--
posted by rmhsinc at 4:21 PM on September 23, 2005

I'll more-or-less repeat filmgeek's comments, because otherwise you might not give them enough weight:

* You're not qualified for H's job. You need to have been in a lower-level supervisory position (like K's) in order to have a good chance of being able to handle something like H's job. Otherwise you not only have no experience, but you're relatively clueless about the right questions to ask, and what your priorities should be.

* It's fine to talk to other people about getting into management ranks, but do it hypothetically with E, S, and H - like "While I enjoy my job, I'm also interested in something more challenging [believe me, being a good manager IS more challenging than being a good technical person]. What could I do to make myself more qualified for a job like H's, in the future?" If - by some longshot - someone actually does think you're ready now, or that they'd be willing to give you a shot, they'll tell you. But, more likely, they'll appreciate the opportunity to offer you advice without having to tell you, bluntly, that you're not think reasonably.

* By all means ask K if he's applying for H's job (and say, in the same breath, that you think he'd do a good job). If he's NOT, then use the hypothetical, above. If he IS, then tell him you're thinking about applying for his job if he does got H's job, and ask him what he thinks.

* You mention that you enjoyed doing K's job (filling in), but not whether you enjoy your current job, or enjoyed K's job more or less than what you do. You should think about what you want out of life - more money? more responsiblity/challenge in your job? more control? more stress and less free time? more meetings? [all of the above typically come with a promotion into management]
posted by WestCoaster at 5:15 PM on September 23, 2005

I tend to agree that K is much more likely to get H's job, but you've got a fair (though not overwhelming) shot at K's job. Still, it's important to signal to S and E that you're thinking of advancing, so go ahead and ask. If nothing else, you'll get the experience of the hiring process which is something you'll want to understand at H's level anyway.

The longer-track strategy you'll want to look at, though, is more opportunities along the lines of filling in for K. More management experience without being in management. Special projects, team leader, reporting to upper management, that sort of thing. Get yourself noticed, get a reputation for being an effective people-wrangler even as a peer. Look for these opportunities, and don't be afraid to look for them often. Tell the new boss (K?) that you have a bunch of ideas and you'd like to take the reins of implementing them.

Good luck.
posted by dhartung at 6:33 PM on September 23, 2005 [1 favorite]

Not to put too fine a point on it, but: the average manager has almost zero knowledge of managing people and is deeply incompetent at their job.

Are there good managers? Sure! Just not in your company, most likely. You're competing with average managers, who suck.

Please do not fail to move into management because you think you're not up to it.

Remember the golden rule of business: each step up halves the work and doubles the salary.

I'm not saying you'll get the job. K. may well move up to the empty job. But you probably ought to try.
posted by jellicle at 7:49 PM on September 23, 2005

What MrZero said. If you ever want (or might want) to move into management, you have to make that clear to the people in charge. In business, initiative is rewarded more often than competence. Keeping silent means not being given the opportunity.
posted by cali at 7:52 PM on September 23, 2005

I was in a very similar position to you a year and a half ago, ended up applying for and getting the managerial job, and am, on balance, very glad I did so. I do think that if you've never been in that role, it's tough to know ahead of time if it'll be right for you, but I tend to believe that taking the risk of growth and discovering new competencies in oneself is worth it.

You mention not being a "people person," and I'm not sure exactly what that means to you, but being everyone's bestest buddy isn't necessary for a manager (and can be an impediment). You do, I think, need the capacity to be a good listener, and to balance empathy with clarity and firmness. Few of us want to be the "bad guy," but doing/saying things that don't make people happy (e.g., negative performance reviews) and doing so without being a dick, is a very valuable and learnable skill.

One key point I came across on a weblog somewhere (can't find it now) -- anyone who rises from the ranks to become a manager has to understand the difference between managing tasks and managing process. The former is probably what you're used to doing; the latter is what you have to get used to focusing on instead. It's worth thinking about whether that would be a satisfying kind of new challenge for you.
posted by Kat Allison at 8:14 PM on September 23, 2005

I made the management jump recently and I find that what it demands of me is greater responsibility (no way to just cruise on autopilot and wait for other people to make the decisions, tell me what to do, take care of problems) and it has given a lot more people a lot more clearance to make demands of me. Managers have to help everyone overcome their little problems constantly. You have to be willing to serve people to be a manager (though that might sound backward). And you should be patient, a good listener, supportive, and yes - like people. You should also be confident in your judgment. I think that good judgment and confidence in yourself, as a combination, are the main ingredients in "management material." Do you know your job? Do you know your business? Are you aware of every aspect of it, including the high-level corporate forces as well as the day-to-day situation on the ground? Being a great and honorable person is important. But it isn't enough by a long shot. Idealists don't all make great managers.

Also - can you make work for people? You need to be so keenly aware of what the company needs done that you can keep lots of people busy all the time. Someone who needs to be told, himself, what to do all the time will not be able to do this.
posted by scarabic at 12:31 AM on September 24, 2005

Incidentally, I just got home from work. Sent my team home around 6:30 but there was still shit to do.
posted by scarabic at 12:32 AM on September 24, 2005

Managing is materially different from any of the technical aspects of your job. Many of us, no matter what our fields, get promoted because we're successful at what we've been doing. Then we find we're in a management position, and the skills we built at the old job are not the ones we need. Being a good manager depends on your willingness and ability to develop those new skills.

Management is a field in itself, with accumulated wisdom, philosophies, and techniques. Never ignore that fact. If you get the job, the first thing to do when negotiating the compensation details will be to ask for the company to pay for a subscription to Harvard Business Review for you. Also ask them to send you to a formal management training program or event once you've had a year on the job. Or perhaps they'll pay tuition for a management class at a business school near you. Let them know you take it seriously and want to be good at it; if they want you to succeed, they'll make these things available to you. If they think these things are unnecessary to success, that is a major red flag. A company unwilling to invest in your development as a manager is unlikely to support you in the inevitable challenges and struggles of the job.
posted by Miko at 4:14 PM on September 24, 2005

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