While putting together this week's Cranky Middle Manager show, a thought struck me. (Don't be a wise-aleck, it could happen).
I was speaking to a senior editor at Fortune Magazine, Hank Gilman, about his new book, You Can't Fire Everyone- and Other Lessons From an Accidental Manager. That's when the question struck me. How many of us are NOT "accidental managers"?
Seriously, think back to the dreams of your youth. Most of us imagined ourselves doing something. Building bridges, working as a nurse, being a famous ne'er do well writer, whatever. A few of us, with either delusions of grandeur or parents who occupied lofty positions we could inherit might have seen ourselves running a company or being the "big boss".
But I would wager that precious few of us gave a moment's thought to that huge yawning abyss in the middle – the abyss called "management". Specifically, I'm talking about the dreaded role of "middle manager".
I don't blame parents, necessarily. On the great list of stuff on which my folks didn't offer full disclosure, career advice is well down the list. No, I blame high school guidance counselors. Isn't it their job to tell us what the world offers in terms of job paths? They're the ones who are supposed to help you choose a school and a major.
Now, I understand why they didn't volunteer this information. Nobody wants to be the herald of bad news. You're trying to get impressionable young minds to envision a future of possibilities. You don't want to be the one to have to tell them the truth.
- At some point in your career - if you're even half-way competent- you'll be asked to move to management.
- This is the only way you'll ever make any money, unless you're in sales. (They don't tell you THAT either.)
- Oh, and the thing that you love that got you into the business in the first place? You'll get to watch everyone else do it while you get to go on conference calls and explain to your boss why it's taking so long.
- You get to help develop your own skills as well as the skills of others. There's a real satisfaction in hiring an eager young person who shoots by you and eventually becomes your boss. Hmmm that didn't come out right.
- Did I mention the money is better?
- You can be a part of something important, and actually mould a company and a team.
- Sometimes, if you're lucky and work hard at it
There are plenty of ways for managers to develop the skills they need. In fact, there are more than ever before and they are close at hand (if you're reading this you're in a very good place to start. Begin by cruising Management-Issues' archives…). And remember, your company is actually interested in your being a good manager (although many companies still labor under the delusion you'll come to them fully formed).
The fact is that management can be an exciting, honourable profession. It is also a very important step towards entrepreneurship - you need to have some management experience to run a business.
Remember, too, that most businesses are started by people who have either been fired by incompetent managers or have thought "surely to goodness I can run a company better than these morons".
It just might be a little easier journey if someone, anyone, had given us a little warning.