Turns out, I hate being a manager, now what?
July 20, 2021 10:33 AM   Subscribe

Well, I accepted a job in a manager position and I've been here for two weeks and I truly DESPISE it. What do I do now?

It's not the management of the "library" itself that bothers me, that is kind of a fun challenge.

It turns out that after 2 weeks, I already HATE HATE HATE HATE managing people! What do I do now?

I hate feeling "bossy"!!
posted by VirginiaPlain to Work & Money (28 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Well, being a manager is all about learning from good managers and applying what you've learned. I don't manage by bossing - I manage by having my employees set goals and explain roadblocks, and helping them achieve goals and equip them with what they need.

Do you WANT to be a better manager? If so, there's lots of options for ways to learn. If not, then it's time to start looking for your next job.
posted by bbqturtle at 10:38 AM on July 20 [23 favorites]

I am getting out of library administration because I also hate managing people!

But 2 weeks may not be long enough to figure out if you can grow to like it. So I would keep at it for a couple of months and try to be gentle with yourself, while possibly casting around for career paths that don't include management.

I'll also recommend the book Crucial Conversations, which would have helped me do a better job with a lot of difficult, awkward managerial conversations, if I hadn't read it in my last month as a manager.
posted by missrachael at 10:41 AM on July 20 [7 favorites]

Oh hi, me from one year ago. I still feel ambivalent about this position in many ways, but it's getting better as I get more confident. I also am reluctant to be "bossy", so I have a hard time managing people who need lots of direction or just want to be told what to do. Still working on that; it's not my style. I'm finding managing the more proactive folks to be enjoyable finally - I get to be a problem-solver when warranted, help them make a call when they can't decide, or just help them clarify their options when they're having a hard time thinking things through.

I agree that 2 weeks is not enough time unless your situation is relentlessly toxic. I didn't enjoy much about this one for the first six months for a lot of reasons, one being that I just didn't feel like myself while doing it. There are lots of ways to manage people though and I'm finally starting to figure out my management style a bit, which makes it easier.

As for what to do now...start thinking about what you DO want to do. Start looking for jobs managing things (tech services?) rather than people maybe? Start taking notes about what you like and don't like the most - some aspects are worse than others for me. Maybe it's not management per se but your particular situation that isn't a good fit. Crucial Conversations is a good resource, as is Ask a Manager.
posted by Knicke at 10:59 AM on July 20 [2 favorites]

If you want to get a better window into managing people, I really liked the book "First, Break all the Rules" which gets at a lot of what good managers do differently to mediocre managers. The best managers I've had have all used some of the principles from that book, whether or not they have read it.
posted by gauche at 11:00 AM on July 20 [1 favorite]

Two weeks is not a lot of time! You may need to just get used to it.

Bosses don't necessarily have to be "bossy" and I'm curious what's going on here. Is there a culture in your library where people have to be told what to do? (In my experience with managing in professional settings, there's actually not a lot of telling people what to do) Do you feel uncomfortable directing others' work or being in a position of authority?

I recommend the book Managing to Change the World. It's for managers in non-profit settings, and I think it would work well for a library. The general idea of the book is that your job as a manager is to set up your team to achieve. It involves a lot of supporting your team members so that they can do their jobs, not telling them what to do all the time. This approach might make you feel more comfortable with the role.
posted by lunasol at 11:02 AM on July 20 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: I guess what I've found frustrating about the position, so far. Is that their previous manager wasn't that great/hands on/involved (it's a LONG story). She really held back the staff professionally and now, ugh, I feel at a loss for how to deal with a ton of bad habits.

For example, I have an employee who LITERALLY rolls her eyes at 75% of the things I say. I'm serious. I'm not over-estimating it. I don't know WHAT to do with an employee like that, but I know that it's a) rude and b) I'm sick of it.
posted by VirginiaPlain at 11:07 AM on July 20 [3 favorites]

Ah yeah, following a bad manager can definitely make things more difficult. Definitely recommending that book even more now, as they do a good job of talking about how to deal with difficult behavior. One of the authors also writes the Ask a Manager blog, which you might find helpful.

As for that specific employee: can you just ask her not to do it? Just call it out in the moment, in a low-key way. "A, I noticed you rolling your eyes. If you have an issue with something, I'd prefer you bring it up with me in a respectful manner rather than rolling your eyes."
posted by lunasol at 11:12 AM on July 20 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: I guess I should add, I DO want to become a better manager, but it just feels so WEIRD to be on the other side? I've already ordered a copy of Crucial Conversations, I remember a previous manager having it on their desk (hah).

I really just feel overwhelmed by everything.
posted by VirginiaPlain at 11:13 AM on July 20

The best boss/manager I ever had was a revelation to me. At her previous position, they were evaluated on how well they developed the people who worked for them. She did that for me — moving me over the “great divide” from admin to account management— and I have always been grateful— and, have always aspired to be like her in every management position I’ve ever had. To her, being a good leader was being of service to others— she was a strong, decisive leader but the furthest thing from being bossy.

Which is to say: two weeks is not much time. Others have posted excellent reading suggestions. You can find your own way of managing, I bet.

One of my biggest challenges was being hired to manage an ad-hoc team who had not had a manager before. So it was a “you’re not the boss of me!” — literally. I channeled my former boss and applied what I had learned from her. I became their advocate. Before that time, they’d only had people who thought being a “boss” meant being a nagging taskmaster.

In your past posts you have shown yourself to be someone who thinks through situations thoroughly, and who cares about others. Excellent traits for a manager, in this random-internet-stranger’s opinion.
posted by profreader at 11:14 AM on July 20 [7 favorites]

Managing people who do X is wildly different from doing X yourself. It's a new set of skills, which you can learn!

Two things: first, you work for your team. Your job is to help your team succeed -- you exist specifically so that they get what they need (direction, support, materials) to do their job. You don't exist to boss them around, that way lies micromanagement, and burnout for everyone. If you reframe the job this way in your mind, you might find it makes things easier.

Secondly, ask questions, lots of them! -- for example, take eye roller: "Hey Person, I noticed you didn't seem completely onboard with XYZ. What concerns do you have?"
posted by so fucking future at 11:17 AM on July 20 [2 favorites]

In private, to the one employee you mentioned:

"I would appreciate you not rolling your eyes every time I speak. It's really disrespectful and I want us to have a good working relationship."

Two weeks isn't long enough, and others have mentioned above, management isn't about 'being bossy' and micromanaging people. lunasol's comment puts it very well: your job is help make the team as successful as possible. This may mean getting them tools or training they need, helping them prioritize among several sets of demands, providing "air cover" from dumb things higher up the chain, and knowing when to not to mess with a thing. It also means helping your teammates develop along their career pathways and, yes, having difficult conversations if necessary.

It can be a demanding role, but it has its own peculiar rewards. One thing that was difficult for me to let go after a similar transition was the impulse to stay in technical problem-solving, which was the role I had prior to becoming a manager of technical problem-solvers. My concerns are the people, not the tech. This was weird, and it took some getting used to.

The Culture Code by Daniel Coyle was making the rounds awhile back in our circles. I'm not a huge business-book-reader, but I thought it was pretty good.
posted by jquinby at 11:18 AM on July 20

I relate to your question a lot. It's very weird being on the other side. It's uncomfortable. It's not fun. We are told this is what we "should" do to advance our career and move upwards in our organizations.

As a new manager I've had to accept that I'm not going to be liked. I've also had to deal with the "skills gap" with the people that I did not hire.

I started during Covid and have mostly worked with my team remotely. They have become accustomed to a way of work that doesn't align with the operational needs of organization.

Fortunately, I have a great manager. He has encouraged me to promote and use that line of thinking (operational needs of the library, in your case) to foster behaviour change. He also encouraged me to explore change management stuff as well. Most people hate change.

One of my mentors suggests a leadership style that includes lots of questions and guidance. I think that in a little while, we will both be master askers!
posted by nathaole at 11:21 AM on July 20 [1 favorite]

I've never been a manager, for pretty much the same reasons you've described, but as you're talking about the bad habits of the staff, it made me wonder: Have you had an introductory all-hands meeting for your team yet? Because, as someone on the other side, I think that would be helpful to demarcate the two regimes. If you just pick up where the last person left off, the team will sense the continuity and keep doing what they're doing (or not doing). A meeting will allow you to say that the old manager isn't here anymore, and some things are gonna change. That sounds pretty douchey, but there's a way to say it without that. Personally, as a team member, I'd really appreciate an individual meeting with you to go over expectations for each party: what you're hoping for me to do, and what I'd like you to help me with. For example, I've gotten to know myself well enough over my career to always ask my bosses for deadlines - I do badly with open-ended assignments I can procrastinate on. If I were one of your team members, I would really like the opportunity to chat with you one-on-one to explain to you how I work, what kinds of direction I respond well to (like asking for volunteers to do something - I still have that elementary school front-of-the-class kid urge to volunteer for anything, because volunteering sounds more interesting than having something assigned), and what kinds of direction I don't respond well to (like public reprimands - I just shrink into an anxiety hole if anyone else is around but my manager and me). Everyone's different, though. Some people like public accountability. My advice is to find out who does what, how.
posted by kevinbelt at 11:27 AM on July 20 [6 favorites]

It's not just you -- there's a staff there. I think a lot of new managers feel like they have to have all the answers, but you don't. "Huh, I don't know. Let's talk about it. What makes sense to you? What makes that the way you prefer? What's the history of this issue?"

I took over a team that basically hadn't been managed, doing a task I have never done myself. I really just told them that I knew I needed to learn the system, and so we were just going to be in quality assessment/improvement mode for a while, as we all figured out ways to make the system work better for them.

My staff knows the ins and outs of the daily work. I have insight into the bigger picture of what's being prioritized (including what I personally want to prioritize). So we talk through how to make decisions together that factor all that in.

I know that's hard with staff with "bad habits," but often the rest of the staff is also annoyed by the bad habits, so you may be able to use the power of peer pressure a bit to suggest alternatives. But you don't have to come up with everything yourself.
posted by lapis at 11:49 AM on July 20

Management coaches fill this niche. It is definitely true that being a manager means you have fewer places to go to for your own support. Can you shake some money loose from a development budget to cover that for yourself? It may even be worth your own mental health to self-fund if the alternative here is "I need to get a new job." Think of it as work-therapy.

One concept I picked up along the way is "task relevant maturity." You need to modulate your level of feedback and direction to the maturity of THAT person doing THAT task. And you need to establish that range with your team members so they understand what to expect from you. Is it a routine task that you expect them to do automatically? Then their job is to do it without intervention from you and intervention is a problem. If it's new to them, the discussion is different -- "I know this is new, so my sense is more specific direction might be helpful for you while you're learning." They need to agree with your assessment and if you're on the same page about it, they will likely welcome the "bossyness" because it's actually helping them achieve what you want from them without having to guess. Indeed, you're in a zone where you are not personally mature at many of the tasks in front of you and it sounds like you would welcome a much more hands on manager who was modeling these new behaviors for you so you can learn by example.

Behavioral stuff like eye rolling is very hard. Ultimately you have to use authority on an issue like that. Tell them what it means to you when they roll their eyes and that you need it to stop. Imply if it doesn't they'll be on a path to being fired, however you're able to do that. And be prepared to follow through.
posted by heresiarch at 11:54 AM on July 20 [1 favorite]

I'm so used to having, uh, managers to refer to at work and ask for advice, etc. I feel SO STRESSED out now that I have *no one* to ask for help.
You say there's no one to ask for help -- but is there really? You must have someone you're accountable to. They must know that you're a new manager and will likely need some guidance. Who is that person? If it's a board, is there someone on the board who you could lean on for advice as you're learning the ropes?

I would also strongly recommend trying to find fellow library managers to make friends with/network with. This could either be in person (libraries in your system; neighboring libraries in other systems) or virtual. When I started managing, having other managers to discuss issues with/complain to/etc. helped greatly.

Finally, you've made reference to being overwhelmed. Just remember that you don't have to fix everything immediately. After two weeks, you probably have an idea if there are any burning fires that need to be put out. Do that first. Then, make yourself a list of things that you think are important to address and rank them in order of importance. Start thinking about how to address those things and approach it systematically. You might not get to the things at the bottom of the list, ever, but that's okay! You will slowly, but surely, improve your situation and learn more about managing as you do it.

Everything may seem like it's on fire right now, but it's probably not. Take a deep breath; prioritize your list; you will be fine.
posted by kdar at 11:56 AM on July 20

You should be able to ask your employees for help with even "management" questions. They probably have good ideas about how you could be an effective manager, how to solve their own problems, etc.
posted by unreasonable at 11:59 AM on July 20

Thoughts for getting more support in your new role:

-Does your state library association have an email list for managers/directors?

-Is there a state library consultant you can connect with for advice?

-Does your local/regional library community have a mentoring service for new managers?

-Is there leadership training in your community for public sector workers?

-Do you have peers who manage other local agencies (city/county departments, local nonprofits, etc.)? You want to be careful how much you offload to these people, since you want to build good relationships with them, but I think these relationships can be really useful in terms of finding your footing in a new community.
posted by toastedcheese at 12:05 PM on July 20

Just one point. One manager I really liked told me that when she was first promoted to manager, she cried every night. She took some management classes at the community college that really helped her. You're very new at this role, and you may grow to like it if you give it more time.
posted by FencingGal at 12:14 PM on July 20

I dunno, I’m gonna maybe go against the tone and tenor of most of the advice you’re getting here.

Being a good manager is hard. Very few people are naturally good managers. Most good managers worked hard to get good at it: it’s not easy.

Lots of people shouldn’t be managers, either because they’re not capable of being good at it, or because they aren’t that interested in putting the time and effort into learning how to do it. For those people, management is just not fulfilling or interesting or fun. That’s reasonable. And some contexts are particularly difficult: like, it is not easy or fun to manage people who are resentful or checked out (I.e., eye-rolling).

Like other people have said, two weeks is not a lot of time. But you might actually just not want to do it, or not want to do it in your current workplace. So I would give yourself maybe six weeks, and see if you’re warming to it. Not so much ‘am I good at it in six weeks,’ but more ‘am I seeing the potential joys and pleasures of it, if I were to get good at it.’ If you’re not—if you really aren’t seeing potential upsides—then it’s okay to decide it’s not for you. It’s not for everyone.
posted by Susan PG at 12:23 PM on July 20 [2 favorites]

Change is stressful.
You have two things happening-
1. General new job stress, and also
2. The specific aspects of this job that may or may not be a fit for you.

Right now they are mixed together so they feel bigger than they are. But #1 will fade in a few weeks, and when it does, you can assess #2 more accurately.

I would give yourself a bit more time to get over the stress of the change before you decide about the job itself.
posted by nouvelle-personne at 12:42 PM on July 20

Managing people is hard work, managing work is hard work, and all of it feels like it's taking you away from what you really do. It isn't your real job is also management now. You can learn to do it better, and it is a helpful skill to improve on even if you decide not to do it longer term.

I honestly think that two weeks is not long enough to know that you hate management. Unless the place you are working is so dysfunctional that you would rather do anything else that work there, I'd suggest that you stick it out for quite a bit longer. I tend to find that I need to be in a job for several months before I adapt to it and can evaluate whether I like it long term or not.
posted by plonkee at 1:15 PM on July 20

I agree with the others that 2 weeks is not long enough to really test out a new role.

However, I also think that we should destigmatize stepping away from management. In too many places, it is framed as a demotion. But managing people is a completely different job than being an individual contributor, and being good at (or liking) one has little bearing on how the other one will work for you. Give it a bit more time, and use the resources people here recommended. But if at the end of the day you decide that managing people is not for you, IT'S OK! It is not for everyone, and there should be zero shame in trying something, realizing it's not for you, and making a change. Life is too short to stick with a career path you hate (at least, if you have other options available).
posted by primethyme at 1:48 PM on July 20 [2 favorites]

The Ask A Manager site is also a really good resource. I almost find it to be like a management focused ask meta.

I just finished being a manager for the first time ever. I ended up having one guiding principles 1. Is the work getting done?

Everything else was details. Employee rolling her eyes? Probably rude and uncalled for. I would addressed it at the beginning but now I wouldn’t. Why? Because that’s just about me. Is rolly eyes getting their work done? Are they being rude to coworkers or patrons? Those are the questions that matter. They can have an attitude with me, in fact I’d prefer that they complain to me but they need to be respectful to coworkers and patrons. A conversation about eye rolling can easily turn in to an escalation and public power struggle. As long as they do their work, it’s fine.

Also like other have said, if you still hate it in a few months, it’s totally fine to step out of that role. Being a manager is not a job everyone enjoys.
posted by raccoon409 at 3:57 PM on July 20 [3 favorites]

It's fine if you decide that this is not the career for you, but, honestly, I wish more managers were uncomfortable with the thought of "being bossy" at the start. People who adore telling others what to do are not always the best managers. People who are thoughtful, listen, and work with their teams to develop the best solutions are so much better.

I would start out by gathering information about the current state - what kind of work is being done, how well is it going, what are some areas for growth or missing targets. Your team, your manager, and your colleagues are good sources for this. I would also both start reading about managers and management, as well as thinking back to the best managers you've ever worked with. What did you like about them? What can you adapt to your own style?

Also, think of your team. Who are they? What motivates them? What challenges do they have? How can you help them grow?

The last thing I would mention is that managing, like any really seminal skill, is an art form. You could spend your entire life studying it, working at it, and trying to refine and improve it, and still have things to learn. I actually like that - it gives me comfort to know that there is such a thing as "good enough," but I'll never be perfect, and that's really point. Being perfect isn't the point. Showing up for your team and your people is the point.
posted by dancing_angel at 4:51 PM on July 20 [1 favorite]

I came to say something similar to what dancing_angel said: if you immediately took to management, with the attitude that it’s easy and you’re automatically great at it, and that it entails bossing people around which is fun, etc., that would be a terrible sign.

Also totally agree that if management isn’t for you, it’s not! But definitely give it more of a chance. You’re still managing the library; the people are important library resources.

The fact that you’ve already 1) identified a clear problem in the eye-roller (even if you’re not sure of what to do about it and would rather quit than have a performance conversation), and 2) recognized flaws in the previous manager’s approach and 3) you’re realizing that improvement is HUGE undertaking? That tells me you actually do have management skills. So it’d be a shame to give up so soon when you clearly have the ability. Plus you can make more money in management, which can compensate for its difficulty.

PS, you didn’t ask, but I had an eye-roller. I let it slide a few times but ultimately it’s gonna hinder her advancement, plus tolerating disrespect is a slippery slope, so I called her to stay after a meeting and said, from a script I had memorized: “you might not be aware of this, but I noticed you rolled your eyes a couple of times in the meeting after I said xyz. This comes across as disrespectful so in the future I need you to express your opinions without rolling your eyes. I’ll make sure you have an opportunity to speak and will consider any concerns.”
posted by kapers at 8:27 PM on July 20

I wish you the best of luck, whichever decision you make. I have often complained about the management of my public library system on this site; I don't know about managers in general, but the managerial culture in my library seems broken beyond repair. It's a combination of external hire Six Sigma types who literally could be managing anything (they don't seem to have any particular interest in or affinity for libraries) and act accordingly, and people who have been in the system for decades and are burnt out on public service, nursing and litigating years-old grudges against other employees, seemingly only motivated by spite and a desire to lower worker morale, or a combination of some or all of the above. One of my best friends is a mid-level manager here and the stories he tells me about all the petty machinations and palace intrigue between these people are unreal. There are a few good people who try their best, but they are very much the exceptions.

Anyway, managing seems like a tough job and I know that I wouldn't be suited for it even in a positive environment, but I am continually puzzled by how it seems to attract and reward many of the worst people here.
posted by The Card Cheat at 7:04 AM on July 21

I'm not a manager, and it sucked when they made me a "lead worker" (be responsible for part of the team getting their timesheet in, semi-responsible for them getting their projects done, while doing your own work and having NO authority over them) but I am a self-starting, deep tech-head and should be a technical person anyway so I was glad when that was over. I _did_, however, have an excellent manager who had been previously a co-worker, so she had some transition issues moving into management of us ( a tech team, if it makes a difference). Some things I think she did really well:

1. She got us all into a meeting shortly after being promoted and explained what her management style would probably be like, but also said to expect adjustments over time as she learned what worked best for the team.

2. Emphasized that we were a _team_ and that we should support each other as much as we could, including that she would provide resources and support as much as she could.

3. Emphasized that we all had individual things to do, and she would expect them to be done, but that as long as they were getting done she wasn't going to be asking for constant status updates.

4. Stated that part of her job was to be an interface between management above her, and us - and that sometimes that would mean she kept them off our backs, and sometimes it would mean she had to have a status right away - but she would try to balance it in our favor.

5. Let us know that even though we were work friends and former co-workers that didn't mean she would let us get away with crap.

6. Often asked what could make things better for us individually and as a team - and included trying to make sure we got training when we could that might improve our career arcs (for those that wanted to rise, anyway, I was happy being just "tech guy we go to with some of the hard stuff".

I guess what I'm trying to say is that the best managers of teams are 'part of the team' and not in an 'us vs. them' attitude vs. the employees.
posted by TimHare at 7:52 PM on July 28

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