Not everyone is management material

22:08, Mar 25 2014

At the risk of making a severely career-limiting statement, I'm not management material.

The last thing I want to do is manage people - I can barely manage myself. I strongly believe that being able to manage other people is a skill in itself. You might be good at your job, but that doesn't mean you can direct others.

I do like it when colleagues and work friends ask me for advice about their careers or something that's happening in their work life. But I definitely don't want to be responsible for disciplining people and motivating them.

And I'd rather poke my eye out than have to listen to mind-numbingly petty grumbles and adjudicate office spats. In my book, that's a complete waste of time.

So this week, I've compiled a list of attributes I think you need to have to be a top manager.

Spoiler alert: it doesn't include having a degree from Harvard, an innate ability to get ahead by stepping on others or a propensity to stick around in a company for so long eventually they have to promote you to management.


Trust your staff to do the job they were hired to do

There's nothing more annoying than your manager doing your job for you - obviously because they think you're a moron who should probably never have graduated from kindergarten. The best managers trust that their staff know what they're doing and will let them sort things out for themselves. They also cultivate an environment so that people know when to ask for help if they need it.

Nathan Schokker runs facilities management business Talio. He once had a situation in which there was a communication breakdown with a client over cleaning of and repairs to the client's property. Repeated back and forths with the client couldn't resolve the situation.

So, rather than becoming directly involved himself, Nathan eventually got his staff to work out exactly what the client was unhappy about and they fixed it. The client was delighted and his people no doubt received a morale boost as well.

Don't be afraid of conflict

I genuinely believe that conflict is healthy and a normal part of life. It happens all the time in the workplace and the best managers know this, don't try to pretend it's not happening and face it head on.

I remember fighting with a designer at one job, no doubt about something petty given I can't even remember what the disagreement was about.

My boss pulled us both into a meeting room and gave us a chance to vent. That was all that was needed to diffuse the situation. The best managers give both sides an opportunity to say their piece and then encourage each party to kiss and make up. (Figuratively, not literally - you don't want HR involved.)

Know when to apologise

Another time I felt completely overwhelmed by work when my boss decided it would be a great idea to launch a new newsletter for the business and that I'd be the perfect person to run the project. I'm not proud to say I might have had a tantrum in response. Anyway, the following day, my boss called me into the office, apologised to me - when he need not have, given there's no excuse for hissy fits - and recognised I was already under a lot of pressure. There was no more mention of the newsletter after that.

Mucho respeto. His actions won an admirer for life.

As Tony Gleeson, executive general manager with the Australian Institute of Management says, "a good indicator as to whether you are management material is knowing that you are not always right. You are not management material if you don't enjoy working with people. You are not management material if you don't have leadership skills or want to learn leadership skills.

"And you won't make it to management if you don't have communication skills and emotional intelligence. A good manager needs to be able to converse with everybody from the person on the shop floor to top level executives," he adds.

Be prepared to promote people

My first job when I came back from kicking it around Europe after uni was at a very small PR firm. I thought it would be a good stepping stone to doing what I really wanted, which was write full time. Problem was the owner was the only person who was allowed to do any writing.

Although I was grateful to have a job, I knew that I'd be outta there as soon as another opportunity came along that would mean I could write. And that's exactly what happened. The owner was shocked when I resigned - she thought I'd stick around for a decade or more until she deigned to give me some responsibility. Wrong.

So what have I learned from all this? Above all, you need to be human if you're a manager. You need to understand that your staff are people with foibles and failings - and great points too.

You have to let them do their thing and figure stuff out for themselves. You need to be prepared to listen when the cat dies, and you need to turn a blind eye (nose?) when they turn up covered in baby spew.

And - this has got to be the worst part of the job - sometimes you're going to have to fire people for poor performance.

It's not for me, but if that sounds like you, I take my hat off to you.

Sydney Morning Herald