Saturday, July 11, 2009

Three Questions for Potential Managers to Ask Themselves

My organization conducts a number of “So you wanna be a manager” kinds of programs, so I get to meet a lot of aspiring managers. Many of them are aware that they'll need to learn new skills and behaviors in order to succeed in a management role. Some of them realize they need to take a hard look at their true motivations. However, not many realize that they need to be prepared that being a manager can change who they are as people.

If you are considering a management role, there are three questions you’ll want to ask yourself, and perhaps even discuss with a trusted advisor:

1. "Why do I want to be a manager?"

People often want to be managers because they want to:
- tell people what to do, instead of being told what to do
- make more money
- solve all of those nagging problems and show everyone else the right way to do things
- move to a nice office or more prestigious surroundings
- become noticed
- prepare themselves to become the next CEO

Some of these things may happen, and some are just plain myths about management. For example, new managers often find out that:
- they now have more people telling them what to do than ever before
- they may make less money
- problems that looked like no-brainers are really way more complicated than they thought
- increased exposure can be a double-edged sword
- people don’t always do what you tell them to do

However, becoming an effective manager often does provide a chance to:
- have a larger impact on the organization because of the larger size of your role
- help your employees develop new skills
- help your employees achieve their own career goals dreams

It’s important to be honest with yourself about what your real motivations for being a manager and have a realistic understanding of what the role is and is not. Don’t go into management for all the wrong reasons!

2. "Do I have what it takes to be successful?"

Once you’re clear on your motivations, the next question is a harder one to answer – do you have what it takes to be a successful manager? That’s a hard question to answer if you’ve never been in the role, so to some extent, there’s some guess-work involved.
We know there are certain skills and attributes that can be demonstrated in a non-managerial role, that if done well, are predictors of managerial success. For example, Development Dimensions International (DDI) has developed a set of criteria that they say will accurately predict executive success, based on their own experience and research, and research by others.

According to DDI, the “right stuff” for future managerial success include:

1. Propensity to lead. They step up to leadership opportunities

2. They bring out the best in others

3. Authenticity. They have integrity, admit mistakes, and don’t let their egos get in their way

4. Receptivity to feedback. They seek out and welcome feedback

5. Learning agility

6. Adaptability. Adaptability reflects a person's skill at juggling competing demands and adjusting to new situations and people. A key here is maintaining an unswerving, "can do" attitude in the face of change

7. Navigates ambiguity. This trait enables people to simplify complex issues and make decisions without having all the facts

8. Conceptual thinking. Like great chess players and baseball managers,the best leaders always have the big picture in mind. Their ability to think two, three, or more moves ahead is what separates them from competitors

9. Cultural fit

10. Passion for results

Try assessing yourself against this list of criteria. Better yet, ask your manager and others to assess you. If you’re lacking in any key areas, that’s OK – most of these things can be improved with awareness, practice, and feedback. Other management skills are learned and mastered once in the role and with experience.

3. "What do I want to become?"

New managers often find that due to the nature of their role, they end up changing how they see themselves and how others see them. People around them may start seeing them as more:
• aggressive
• demanding
• dictatorial
• harsh
• indecisive
• arrogant
• overly serious
• guarded

Sometimes the changes are so subtle and gradual we don’t even realize we’ve changed. Or we tell ourselves “that’s just how I have to be at work – it’s not the real me”. The reality is, if you’re not careful, you can end up becoming a person you don’t want to be.

Instead, start with a vision of who you want to be as a manager – and even more important, as a leader. What’s the legacy you want to leave, on your organization and others? What kind of a leader do you want to be remembered as? Who are the leaders you admire the most? This list of characteristics become your own personal leadership vision statement that you’ll use as a north star to make sure you’re not straying from who you want to be.

So do a little soul searching before you’re offered that promotion. Taking the time to ask and answer these three questions will help ensure your success as a manager and leader.


Becky Robinson said...

This is a great resource for anyone considering the leap to management -- thank you. The idea that changing roles in your organization can influence who you are as a person is intriguing. I also appreciate your reminder to use a personal leadership vision statement to guide decisions and shape who you are as a leader.

Wally Bock said...

Great questions, Dan. Let me throw a few questions into your mix for number two. These all ask about specific behavior that a potential leader may or may not have shown so far. They're critical for success in a boss's role and I've never seen anyone start being able to do them simply because they were anointed "boss."

Have I made decisions when they need to be made? Some people can't decide, but it's part of a leader's job.

Have I enjoyed helping others succeed? Part of leadership is helping the team and team members succeed. Is that fun for you? Or are you more concerned about your personal success?

Have I talked to others about performance or behavior? Talking to other about the good things they do is essential to encourage them to do more. Talking to others about things that require correction is one of the hardest things any boss has to do.

The final question is a bit different. Coaching is one of the most important parts of being a boss, but it's one of the hardest to judge your own fitness for. The best way is to ask: "Do others often come to me for help?" If they do you probably have both the skills and the credibility you'll need when you become boss.

Abhi said...

Great post. Very relevant to someone who wants to be a manager but might not have thought through the reasons. Thanks for sharing.

Frode H said...

I love this post. It is very good.

I wanted to become a manager for all the wrong reasons, but ended up with one single eye-opening conversation that made me re-evaluate my goals. I decided that I want to become the best leader possible. And I got my promotion after a short period of time. As a mangager I am obligated to make you grow. I am here to make you succeed at work. That is the core of my job.

I do think the reason people see you in a negative light as you become a manager is because you are no longer a "friend" everything you say is analyzed, as well as everything you do. And as soon as people start to feel that this is not going their way, you are the problem. Instead a few understand that "I" are the problem, and that employees need to adapt to the new manager as well.

hocoblog said...

Great post. I forwarded this to two candidates that I will be interviewing for a sales management role in my organization. I am also forwarding it to my existing team of managers.

Dan McCarthy said...

Becky -

Wally -
Thanks, those are good additions, and are much more real than the DDI list.

Abhi, Frode,

hocoblog -
Thanks. Sure, I suppose existing managers could ask themselves the same questions.

Rebecca said...

Great article Dan. We have been working on an Emerging Leaders program for individual contributors looking to get into leadership and these post some great questions to pose to the potentials looking at entering the program. Thanks!

Dan McCarthy said...

Rebecca -
Thanks. We've had a lot of success with these programs. They help with career planning, leadership assessment, preparation, retention, and motivation.

Martin O'Neill said...

Just about every company I know is working on (or should be working on) developing their next generation of leaders. These are great questions to ask potential leaders and can give any human development initiative a leg up. Thanks Dan.

steveroesler said...


This is another of your thorough posts that forces people to dig deeper into the "Why?"

When it comes to a management opportunity--promotion or job search--this should be required reading/checklist for those considering a management career.

The "becoming" part often remains overlooked and doesn't surface until a couple of years into the role when one realizes that nothing "personal" has changed.

Another home run.

Dan McCarthy said...

Martin -
You're welcome!

Steve -
Thanks! Of course, there's a lot of positive changes that can happen to you from being a manager too.

hour9 said...


This is a great post. I've been considering the leap to management for the last couple years now and your post really helps to focus my motives and allows me to approach the possibility of management with more humility. This is really timely for me. Thanks.

Dan McCarthy said...

hour9 -
good, I'm glad it's helped you.

Kyle Ryman said...

This post brings back memories of a waterpark I worked at for four-years. Every summer new "leads" (entry level managers who supervised between 12-20 lifeguards) were promoted from the ranks of the lifeguards.

Because there was no real training program, every one of those new leads had to learn the hard way to become a leader. Most of the time though you could see that they made up for lack of leadership experience by taking up the different "leadership" styles that you pointed out in #3. Over the course of the summer though some of them would learn to be more dynamic in their leadership.

I'd be willing to bet that the majority of people who step into their first leadership position assume one of these styles as their only style of leadership (at first). It takes experience to become a truly dynamic leader.

Thanks for the great post.


working girl said...

Here are a few questions you should ask someone before putting them in a management role: