I have long believed that the real secret to one’s success as a manager begins in his or her head. That is, in understanding what your job as a manager is, and what it is not.
Most of us ascended to the management ranks after a successful stint at doing something extremely well in our organizations. We impressed our superiors with our substantive understanding and skills, our productivity, our performance quality, our organizing and leadership skills, and our grasp of our organization’s culture and way of doing business. So they made us a manager, a move many of us initially saw as a small, yet well-earned upward move.
In reality as we soon discovered, becoming a manager is a very big change in one’s professional life; a change of professions in fact. Becoming a successful manager fundamentally requires that we make a mental shift: from seeing ourselves as a primary doer of something, to seeing ourselves as responsible for getting others to do that thing instead.
In my Workshops we spend a great deal of time discussing this professional transition because it is generally so hard. Most new managers initially miss the excitement and acclaim they received as a doer and need to mourn that loss until they discover the potential rewards in their new management role. Others simply find it hard to give up the doing for various reasons so they dabble in both the doer and the manager role. Over time, this sort of dabbling is a ticket to micromanaging and a sub-optimal performance in both roles.
In the real world of work, all managers quickly discover that the shift of perspectives from doer to manager is not a simple either or choice. There are times when all managers, for various reasons, must still get involved in the doing. So the mental shift I refer to actually becomes a balancing act that demands frequent judgment calls about when to get substantively involved in the doing and when to back off.
While these judgment calls are often difficult, I believe it helps a great deal if you cultivate a self-image as an investor and teacher in your managerial role. Thinking of yourself in this way focuses you attention on the need for you to invest your time and effort to teach others what you know, to help them improve their performances, and to invest the resources at your disposal in the growth and development of the subordinates entrusted to your guidance. This self concept also helps you answer the critical question you should always ask before you dive into the doing itself: why am I getting involved?
Leave aside those times when you simply must, for some legitimate reason, get involved in the doing. If your answer to the WHY question is “because I just cannot let go” or “because I am smarter and better at the doing than any of my subordinates”, or “because I am afraid that others will screw this up and I will get the blame” you are in real trouble as a manager and should perhaps go back to the doing.
However, if your answer to the WHY question is something like “because investing my time and effort will help teach and develop my subordinates to do this without me in the future” then you are well on your way to the mental transition required of a successful manager.