What is the most difficult thing when you decide to get into management? I was recently having a mentoring conversation with one junior manager and we got talking about some of the pitfalls in management. Ultimately, I was asked, “What is the most difficult thing in management?” This gave me a pause. Where do you start with a question like this? So I decided to analyze it a bit and at the end I will share with you the answer I gave to him.
Completely new career path
One of the biggest challenges when getting into management is the realization that this is simply a different career path. The popular view is that you get promoted to management and that it is sort of a natural evolution of your previous technical job. It is not. When you got to management, you just started a new career from scratch and you need to learn totally new set of skills and even change your mindset. I talked about this topic more in this article.
Leaving your old job behind
Another daunting aspect of moving to management is to learn the skill of letting go of your previous job. Very often new managers tend to keep themselves involved in the old job since it is a familiar ground and they can more easily get a sense of job satisfaction. Management is new, confusing, and it takes time to get your head around it. You do things, but you may not immediately identify results of your work. Being able to leave your old job behind and fully commit to your new career is important for fast and successful transition. There is a huge amount of things to learn and you can’t be distracted by your old job. I talked about this aspect in The Art Of Letting Go.
Changing relationship with the team
If you were promoted to lead your old team chances are that there are relationships you have with your former team mates, there is a certain team dynamics, and obviously all this changes. It would be wrong to deny that things are different now. It is equally wrong to start suddenly acting like a big boss. It is important to find the right balance for a smooth transition so you keep good relationship with the team, while being respected as a good manager and a leader.
People are not boxes
I was recently interviewing a person for HR position and when we talked about the mission of his life and what drives him he started talking about his previous career in logistics. “In logistics you put a bar code on a box and you can be 99.9% sure it reaches the proper destination. With people, you advice them to do something and you can be 99.9% sure they will do something different. That’s what is so exciting about working with people. It is never boring.”
I find this a great summary of another difficult aspect of people management. People are not things. In reality you can’t really manage them. The approaches you used to manage things are no longer working and that may lead to frustration. You need to learn completely different strategies on how to get your job done. This article can give you some ideas where to start.
Your education is never done. Every person is different, every situation is different and that means you need to constantly learn new tricks on how to do your job. What makes it even more complicated is that the world and society evolves and so the expectations of people and management practices. We know more about how our brains work, there is more and more research in the area of psychology, sociology, and human behavior and it is good to keep in touch to expand the toolset available to you as a manager. What you must never allow is to believe you know everything about managing people or to try to use one management approach to any situation regardless whether it fits.
So what is the most difficult thing in people management? One of the key aspects of being a good people manager is the inherent need to care about people. You are in management because you want to do good, you want to help others, you want to impact their lives in a positive way. Like a doctor, your first priority should be “do no harm”. So unless you are a psychopath, the most difficult thing in management is the fact that you are basically experimenting on people. You might have gone through some theoretical education, but nothing replaces the hands-on experience.
The lessons you are learning, are on backs of people you manage. Unfortunately, the best and most memorable lessons are usually learned when you hurt someone in the process. You know, after the fact, that you should have done something differently, you learn the lesson, but it is often too late to fix the situation for the one individual that was the unwilling participant in your education.
“The most difficult thing in management is the realization that others suffer so you can get better.”
The typical example that illustrates this point is not providing enough feedback to your team members. Only when they don’t perform and are on a verge of getting fired you talk to them about their performance and they are surprised and confused, “but you never said anything, I thought I was doing a great job!” This is the moment, when you know you screwed up and they are paying the price.
Sometimes you can salvage the situation and turn things around, but sometimes the reputation of the individual or the relationships he has with others are so damaged that there is nothing to do but to apologize to the person you hurt with your inaction and start over with someone else and this time learn from the mistakes you made previously.
So what does it mean for you? Being humble and able to acknowledge that this is going on is the first step to make sure you minimize the negative impact your learning has on lives of other people.
What do you think? What is the most difficult thing in management? How would you answer this question when you started your management path and how would you answer the question after couple of years or even decades of experience?
Originally posted at LinkedIn.