After more than two decades in the Executive Search
business, I have learned a lot about what goes into a
successful hire. I try to impart my knowledge to both hiring
managers and candidates. Nevertheless, at many job
interviews I find myself listening to questions that make me
cringe and answers that make me want to cry.
Now it's my turn to talk.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

What, me…a manager?

Do you routinely skip lunch with your fellow cubicle-dwellers in favor of a brown bag and some uninterrupted productive time at your desk? Be careful. For your career, it might be better to ditch the PB&J in favor of a Pesto Panini with a side of human interaction.

Here is something to remember as you plan your career. Whether you are an accountant or an HR professional, a marketing person or a banker, many of the roads upward in a career eventually go to and through people management roles.  Unless you learn to form relationships and manage people as well as tasks, your upward motion will reach its plateau long before the pinnacle of your potential has been reached.

So while excellent job performance is career priority #1, relationship building and people skills are a close second.

Generally, there are one or two roles at the beginning of a career in which the only requirements are to learn your job function and to apply that learning to your assigned tasks.  These learn-and-execute positions are the period of your career in which you acquire expertise in your chosen field. 

At some point, perhaps three to eight years into a career, you may be promoted to a senior level or coordinator role.  At this point, having proven that you have a strong foundation of knowledge in your area, you may be given more responsibility and the opportunity to perform higher level functions.

Once you have mastered your job function in these early stages of your career, the next step forward might well be to a supervisory or management role that involves the management of people. If you have not worked as hard to build relationships and people skills as you have worked to develop your job expertise, this may be the point where your career comes to a grinding halt.

There are very specific skills necessary for a people management role. These include leadership, communication abilities, listening, problem-solving, time management, delegation, decision-making, and discipline.  When you are being considered for such a role, you must be able to demonstrate that you have these traits.

So how might you develop your people management skills while also performing your job?  Here are a few suggestions:

·       Be a part of your office environment, not apart from it.  You do not need to lunch every day with your group, but an occasional lunch shows respect and friendliness toward co-workers (and those you might eventually be supervising).  Make time for conversation and interaction with the people in your department.  You will learn about the opinions and problems of your co-workers and acquire a vision of how your department works.
·       Make presentations.  Take every opportunity to present your work product to your peers and managers.  You will become comfortable with public speaking, as well as taking visible ownership of the work you have done. 
·       Read books on management.  There are thousands out there; the ideas in them will help you develop a management philosophy, as well as making you conversant on the subject during an interview.
·       Attend meetings.  Even optional ones.  Every meeting may seem like a waste of time, and many are, but being visible to those around you is never time wasted.
·       Contribute ideas.  Whether in casual office conversation, a department-wide meeting, or a requested appointment with your manager, having and contributing ideas demonstrates leadership and an attempt to solve problems.
·       Follow the rules.  You will not be promoted to a position that enforces the rules if you are not seen as someone who has followed the rules.

Even if you do not aspire to a managerial role, the above suggestions can contribute to job satisfaction, job security, and your own self respect.  Having a friendly relationship with your superiors and peers is always a good thing.  When it comes to promotions and pink slips, not everyone can be the most popular kid in the class, but you may not want to be “what’s-his-name” in the corner cubicle either.   

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