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Managing People

There is a lot of received wisdom around how to build a successful career, and one of the most common is that promotion to a leadership role is a requirement professional growth.  I’m skeptical.

This postfrom the Bayt blog (via Claudia) managed to get me nodding in agreement one sentence:

“…successful management requires skills entirely separate from the job skills that got you promoted.”

And irritated the next:

“In all likelihood, you have demonstrated these skills during the course of your career in order to secure the promotion in the first place.”

 Although it’s kind of obvious, I don’t think people realize that managing others performing a set of tasks is very different than actually performing those tasks.  Keeping people motivated, setting expectations, managing consequences are things you simply don’t have to do as an individual contributor.

Hence my frustration with the second sentiment.  HR folks and people in management roles conflate high performance with management potential, and they’re just two different things.  I can’t know if this particular person has leadership skills, but he or she certainly doesn’t seem to have thought much about it.  It’s just a part of advancing in the company.

What’s particularly concerning about this feeling that management = career growth is that it often elides the question of whether management is for everyone.  I’ve seen numerous examples in my career of people that were seen as good individual contributors, were promoted to leadership roles, and then failed. And they often took months and even years to rebuild their self confidence. 

The solution is pretty simple: you don’t have to manage others to be a successful, strong contributor. If you want to manage people, great. Let’s help prepare you. If you don’t, great. Let’s help make sure you stay challenged in your job.

None of this is helpful for this particular person, of course.  Theyr’e in the job-I hope they figure it out, and that the management thing works out.  That’s all I can do.

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