Burning match on black background

Yes! You’ve finally gotten some help (buh-bye one-person shop!), or been invited to the coveted ranks of management. You got there because you’re good at what you do, and someone saw your potential to do more (go you!). Here’s what they won’t tell you about management before you accept that promotion.

1. Management is trial by fire

No training course–no matter how carefully simulated–can totally prepare you to manage people. I can say this with some certainty, after earning an MBA and surviving countless management seminars. Why? People have emotions, and they don’t check them at the door (with the possible exception of prison guards–I gave a speech to such a group once, and could swear they were carved from stone).

You never know what’s going on in someone’s personal life unless they tell you. And, believe it or not, some of them will tell you. More than you wanted to know.  Some employees want to talk about illnesses (in graphic detail), family problems and relationships with you, their boss. As a manager, you have to listen, whether or not you have time. (And you usually won’t.)

No two employees are the same.They all need things from you, but different things. The new college grad may want mentoring, or some help as he adjusts to life after State U. The experienced professional may just want someone to listen as she vents, and support her professional decisions.

2. You’ll learn stuff you don’t want to know

Communications needs a seat at the table early, to head off potential communication problems. Be glad you work at an organization that recognizes this. But at that table you’ll hear things that make you uncomfortable. You might realize that your company’s “people first” motto is complete B.S. (see Pam Slim’s excellent letter for more on this). You can bet if you work for a public company that shareholders (and thus earnings) come first, middle and last; that’s the first thing they teach you in business school.

You might become aware of major issues affecting your company’s future. It’s exciting to help solve big business problems, but you have to grow a thick skin, and have more than a little confidence that your company is on the right path to push through both large and small issues. Because there will always be issues.

You might also learn that simply being in Communications puts a big “Overhead Expense Here!” target on your back. Speak up in meetings. Share that great idea, or angle no one has mentioned. It might be uncomfortable at first to speak up. Do it anyway. Prove that you deserve your seat at that table–that your organization needs you–then do it again. Every single day.

3. No one wants to hear you complain

You’re required to be there for employees who need to vent, but it doesn’t work in reverse. You’re not allowed to vent to your employees. You’ll never convince them that your struggles are greater than theirs, so don’t even try. With the privilege of sitting at the management table comes a degree of isolation. Keep your gripes among your management peers, or grouse to your spouse. And remember: before you complain to your boss, be sure it’s a real issue, and you’ve thought through several alternatives.

4. Giving feedback is harder than it looks

Praise in public, correct in private. Feedback works best when it is specific and in close proximity to the event. For example, if your employee did a great job preparing for an upcoming trade show, tell her exactly what you appreciated about that while you’re there, or shortly after you return. It’s easy to let your stars go on autopilot–they’ll do a great job regardless. Resist the temptation, and make a point to regularly remind them how awesome they are (specifically, of course).

5. You don’t get to do the cool stuff any more

If you’re great at what you do, and work in a big enough organization, you’ll likely end up promoted to management. This is great, of course, until you realize you don’t get to do the things that got you there any more. You have to spend much more time on paperwork and people management (which takes longer than you would think), and delegate the cool stuff. You can’t just delegate busy work. It is now your job to help your employees grow and learn new skills. So no matter how much you want to do that video editing project yourself, let it go.

Delegating is especially hard if you’re used to not just running but being the show. No one will do it exactly as you would. Bite your tongue and let it go. Give your employees the freedom to figure out how to do things (lest you become the dreaded micromanager). They might find a quicker or better way to do something, but only if you let them try. Correct only on the important things, like strategy, and stay out of the details.

Have your own lessons from becoming a manager? I’d love to hear them.