Like many ambitious young professionals, early in my career I could not wait to be promoted to a leadership position and be the boss. I was impatient and at times felt like I "deserved" to be in charge (of what I don't know). It took longer than I would have liked, often due to my own choices to change paths or companies but in the end, I did end up with some management responsibilities and have had the opportunity to be in several such roles over the last 10+ years.
Looking back now and seeing how others often pursue management as a source of status or power, I can appreciate what I learned from waiting. I can also appreciate that I have had the good fortune of working with some very talented people in my career. As a manager, it can be intimidating to know that you have employees that are frankly better than you at certain things. The challenge is to not put up a wall to show that you are superior due to your title but to learn how to best use your team's talents, learn from your team and most of all, encourage them to continue to grow and succeed even if that means passing you by.
Below are three key takeaways that I believe are often missed in the eagerness to gain status in the corporate environment. These are common not only in younger professionals trying to climb the corporate ladder but also among line managers seeking to further their careers.
1. Management is about your people, not about you (or your boss). This may seem either obvious or patronizing but I am convinced that this is not the way that most managers approach their role. Our first responsibilities are always to our employer and our customers (can't do right by one without the other) but the way to achieve that is always through the team that you are working with. People need to trust you and believe that you are also working for them in order to perform their best. Many inexperienced managers, especially those not connected directly to the customer see their own boss as the focus and their employees as interchangeable pieces to accomplish their goals. I believe that this is completely reversed. It is ultimately your team that will make you and the company successful.
2. Learning to lead without being a "boss". One of the things that I learned while I was waiting to become a manager is that the ability to exert influence and lead is not necessarily a function of your title. Way too many people (probably the majority of mid level managers) are obsessed with who reports to them and their position on some power point org chart.
3. The hardest thing to do as a manager is communicate effectively. Especially within widespread or matrixed organizations having good communication can be a challenge particularly across time-zones, languages and cultures. There are the typical interpersonal challenges of provided feedback to teams and individuals either as positive recognition or as constructive criticism when required. Additionally, as a manager, you need to understand how communications are perceived and most of all realize that, no matter how clear something is in your own mind, there will be questions and you need to be able to need to be able to articulate not only the what but also the why of your messages. The alternative is an authoritarian approach of "because I said so" which won't go very far with a talented team.