New manager?

I recently got a message from a colleague and friend who was embarking on a bit of a career adventure, going from a strictly technical role to one where some formal management was going to be required.  After (tongue-in-cheek) offering my condolences, I shared the story of the first real lesson I remember learning as a manager.

I like to to think I’ve figured out a few things in my time as a manager, but every day is still a learning experience.  Every time you take on a team member, you learn something new.  You figure out how to adapt to them, what they have to offer, what you need to change to make them most effective. People change, too, so even if your team is static each member of the team is growing.  They have new needs, offer new contributions, interact with their surroundings in new ways.

You can never really rest, as a manager.  You are constantly confronted with change, and the cost of failure is high.  Some will quit, others will remain even though unhappy, draining the will of those around them.

It’s not an easy job.  And “the hard part” is only a fraction of what the company probably expects of you.  You need to know your product, your market, your users, and your technologies.  You need to know your company, your division, your peers, and your office politics.  Somewhere in all that you need to know the dynamics of your team, the individual needs of every team member as well as the combined set of everyone.   You have to juggle the fact that what’s best for your team may not be what’s best for you, you have to weigh the needs of the company versus the needs of your division, weigh your own instincts against those of your senior management.

It’s easy to get overwhelmed.  It’s easy to focus on just the pieces of that puzzle that are easy, or that are screaming for help on any given day.  That’s all many managers do.  It’s understandable.

So, for the new managers in the crowd, I offer my condolences if it’s not what you wanted.  And I hope you get a lot out of the job and share what you learn with everyone around you.  Because we need good managers.  We’ve got too many people filling chairs who would rather be doing something else.