What does a manager do?


Here’s a statistically IN-significant – but real – informal survey I conducted recently about what a manager does:

New managers say a manager “gets the work done” – and “has to work more and harder than ever.” Which is not what they thought would be the case when they got promoted.

People who report to managers say a manager “gets in the way.”

People who lead new managers say new managers “underdeliver.”

Nowhere did I hear that a manager enables people, lifts them up, supports their growth, coaches their development, lets them shine or allows them to fail safely. Which are the things I know I wanted – and got on occasion, but rarely – back when I had a boss.

Managers are subject to intense criticism. They bulldoze or burn bridges with their former peers. They micromanage. They never have time. They don’t prioritize well. They hog the spotlight. And, too often, they burn out from overwork and isolation. Why? Largely because they haven’t been set up for success, both in terms of role clarity and in terms of what they believe they are supposed to be doing.

The role of manager, and its function in an organization, has not caught up with the changes in work, in technology, in workforce size and in employees themselves. Things move fast, change quickly, companies are asked to do more with less, and people are more discerning and smarter about their options.

An individual can’t solve the organizational aspect of the problem alone. But what you CAN do is adjust your mindset and engage differently. Here are a few ideas;

  1. Reverse engineer the distribution of work. Use work as a development tool, rather than using people to do the work. Ask “what does this person need in order to learn and grow?” and then find them work that achieves that development goal.
  2. Ask what your people need. Trust them to know when they can handle something and when they need assistance. And know that, as their manager, your assistance takes 3 main forms: add resources, remove barriers or teach a new skill (note that teach is #3 on the list!). It DOES NOT include “do the thing.” (Nor does it include “tell them what to do” – for more on that watch for an upcoming post on Michael Bungay Stanier’s new book, “The Advice Trap.”)
  3. Check how you spend your time. I mean really check. If you’re hidden in your office more than half the time, you’re not engaging with your people or managing key stakeholders or seeking opportunities for collaboration.

As someone whose company has grown quickly and who has had to figure out company culture and engagement and career pathing for his people, Gary Vaynerchuk has some ideas worth considering. One of my favourites? As a manager (company owner, corporate leader) – you work for them. Never lose sight of that.

And for a great new resource on this topic, check out Welcome to Management by Ryan Hawk. It is a realistic, practical, easy to action guide to making that always difficult transition from excellent performer to good manager.

Bottom line – not everyone is cut out to be a manager. If it’s not what you really want to do, challenge your organization to develop you in other ways, and invite them to look beyond the top technical performers and towards the people with great EQ and leadership aspirations to step into that manager role. Everyone will be happier.