The Atlas

Test drive your appetite for being a manager

This week we come to my absolute favorite of all of Gallup's 12 Elements of Employee Engagement. It's the one I think is the most important, not just for the reasons that Gallup identifies, but because I think that anyone who thinks they might want to be a manager needs to think about this one the most and ask themselves what they think and feel about it.

My supervisor, or someone at work, seems to care about me as a person.

To me, this question is where anyone who thinks they want to manage needs to start -- and it'd ideally start long before they find themselves as anyone's boss. And, because nature abhors a vacuum, if you are in an environment where your actual boss does not do this, then your willingness to provide this consideration for your colleagues is often the gateway to becoming an unofficial leader, long before you officially have the title.

I often use a parenting metaphor when it comes to being a good manager. I find it useful for the following reasons:

  • Most people can relate to it.
  • It captures the up/down, stop/start, back/forth nature of a complicated relationship dynamic without a cut-and-dry prescription for how to get there.
  • It's a role that most people take on before they are ready and have to mature into over time.
  • Doing it well requires ongoing learning, willingness to consider different options than you ever would have predicted, and an actual desire to work at doing it well.
  • Most people -- whether they ever articulate it or not -- develop a philosophy around what they think is important in the role, and how they want to show up in it.
  • It's usually harder than people imagine it will be -- but with that often comes a degree of satisfaction that makes it worth while.
  • It's a role that requires time, presence, effort and vulnerability to do well.
  • The (ideal) long-term goal of both is for your charge to grow and mature into the confidence, skills and independence they need to be successful without you.
  • It's not for everyone.

Most of us are raised surrounded by the assumption that we are going to grow up to be parents. As one of the statistical minority, I knew from a very early age (about 10) that I was not ever going to have kids. However, I also knew that I would manage people. And from an early age, I organized my education, my life, my career and my approach to self-development around that, because it was important to me that I be able to do it well -- both for others and also for myself.

One of the biggest mistakes I see people make in their careers is that they want to be a manager because they want to check a box as they climb the corporate ladder, and they sometimes do not consider the one-on-one relationship function that goes with it.

The reason this is my favorite of Gallup's 12 Elements is because, to me, it is the best litmus test that you can have for yourself early in your career. Most people will say, "Of course I care about my colleagues." But, as with all tests, the rubber meets the road in a conflict:

  • How do you handle it when the needs of the work/project are at odds with the needs of the person?
  • What happens when an important, high-paying client treats your people like shit?
  • How do you deal with an entitled prima donna who might do brilliant work, but makes the rest of the team miserable?
  • What happens when one employee you care about accuses another one you care about of misconduct?

There are dozens of ways in which caring about your team as individuals -- including when conflicts arise between those individuals -- will surface as a manager. And if this isn't something you want to have to deal with, then you might want to think twice about being a manager.

When you think about the work environments you've been in where you've been happiest, most productive and done your absolute best, were you working in isolation without feeling like someone cared about you one way or the other? I'd venture that isn't likely. A human being's craving for connection and belonging is too innate for that.

Finally -- and often most importantly -- sometimes the answer is just, "Man, I don't want to have to do that. I want to show up, do my job and go home." And if that is the case, then the sooner you know that, the easier a time you'll have navigating some of the options that come up in your career. And sometimes you won't really know until you try. That's ok, too. One of the best perks about being a manager that being a parent lacks is an out-clause if you end up with buyer's remorse. Just like parenting, being a manager isn't for everyone. There is no shame in that.

I hope you have a great week, and that you can take the time to recognize the people in your work life who make you feel supported and appreciated -- and what having that actually means to you on a daily basis.

Alora's Signature