Career Management: Managers Make a Difference

By Scot Herrick | Job Performance

Nov 08

Last night, I wrote about how careers are now all about acquiring skills that support your personal brand. Rosetta Thurman, writing in From the Pipeline, made a great point that I agree with:

It’s over. No more vertical. No more ladder. That’s not the way careers work anymore. Linearity is out. A career is now a checkerboard. Or even a maze. It’s full of moves that go sideways, forward, slide on the diagonal, even go backward when that makes sense. (It often does.) A career is a portfolio of projects that teach you new skills, gain you new expertise, develop new capabilities, grow your colleague set, and constantly reinvent you as a brand.

But then, she ends it with this little statement that I really don’t agree with:

As you scope out the path your “career” will take, remember: the last thing you want to do is become a manager. Like “resume,” “manager” is an obsolete term. It’s practically synonymous with “dead end job.” What you want is a steady diet of more interesting, more challenging, more provocative projects.

Part of the reason for this, of course, is that I manage people. But, I that’s not the reason I disagree with a manager’s job being a dead end job. In fact, great people need good managers.

Now, if your career perspective is to be an individual contributor, by all means, follow the non-management path and don’t become a manager. That’s perfectly OK. Everyone needs individual leadership as well as management leadership.

But don’t rule out the management career. It can be quite rewarding.

Readers of this blog will note that I’m pretty hard on management. In fact, I even have a category devoted to “management’s mismanagement” and we can all point to examples — many, many examples — of where management has totally not gotten it right and the result is poor results for the team, the department, or the company. Enron anyone?

While I rarely, in this blog, defend management, I think there are some important things the management career brings to those who work in cubes. Here are a few good ones:

  1. Good managers bring out the best in their employees. If you, as a cubicle warrior, want to learn new skills, be assigned to the cool new projects, and work on the stuff that gives you the great experience…who do you think assigns you that work? Your manager.
  2. Good managers want to have their employees expand their skills. And great ones help individual contributors plan out how to acquire their new skills.
  3. Good managers will indulge your need for learning even if it not part of the mission of the department. Good managers want to give you whatever experience they can to help you succeed, even if it is not directly related to the goals of the department. Good managers will help figure out how to get that done.
  4. Good managers will defend their employee’s work. When it gets to year end evaluation and crunch time, good managers have all the statistics and numbers about their employees to defend their ratings. Why is this important? Because performance on the job — your rating — plus your skills give you opportunities.

I’ve worked with great managers. And I’ve worked with managers who are schmucks — clueless to boot. There’s a world of difference — and that difference effects your ability to succeed whether you are an individual contributor or a manager.

There are plenty of poor managers. But if you go after the management career track and can be a great manager, there are significant rewards — rewards which have nothing to do with money. Rather, the satisfaction of your team succeeding, individuals being recruited in your group and promoted within the company, and your work enabling people to grow within their career is something close to priceless.

Great managers are rare. But, oh, are they great to work for to help your personal brand.

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About the Author

Scot Herrick is the author of “I’ve Landed My Dream Job–Now What???” and owner of Cube Rules, LLC. Scot has a long history of management and individual contribution in multiple Fortune 100 corporations.