Becoming A Manager

Author: Linda A. Hill


One of the top most challenges, almost every organisation is facing today is “Talent”. And the impact of Talent at a managerial or leadership position is multi fold, since it impacts every person down under the hierarchy.  On the same topic of developing and making newly elevated managers successful, read a wonderful book ‘Becoming A manager’ by Linda A. Hill.

As the author, Linda A. Hill states, Becoming a Manager is about the “fundamentals”; its about unlearning deeply held attitudes and habits that were developed when people were simply responsible for their own performance; it’s about learning something new. In today’s VUCA world, the rate and magnitude of change appear to be escalating. And change not only means leading and changing others, but changing oneself.

In the book, author gives detailed account of various interviews and researches to help explain what it means to be a manager – It’s the feeling when you have a child. On day X minus 1, you still don’t have a child. On day X, all of a sudden you are a mother or a father and you are supposed to know everything there is to know about taking care of this kid. It’s about 40-50 percent more work than being a producer.

Becoming a manager is about managing varying expectations from different stakeholders, those are your bosses, subordinates, peers and then your own expectations.

Managerial Role Constituency
  New Managers Subordinates Superiors Peers
Agenda Setting
Manager as boss × ×
Manager as sales leader × ×
Manager as organizer ×
Manager as business person ×
Building networks
Manager as supervisor ×
Manager as administrator ×
Manager as politician ×
Manager as people manager ×
Manager as team leader × ×
Manager as liaison × ×
Manager as integrator ×
Manager as negotiator ×

Moving towards a managerial identity – In many instances, author talks about superiors talking to the new managers about the value of building and maintaining good relationships with others in the organisation. According to the author, the role of a manager is a real challenge and the challenge is twofold. To balance corporate and business expectations with people management, motivation, concern for the individual and development. You can’t let either slip. It is easy to do one or the other alone, but the trick is to do the both.

Exercising authority – In this section, the author talk about what managers had to learn what their subordinates looked for in judging managerial commitment. Managers discovered two factors that most subordinates weighted very heavily; 1. How much time and resources the managerinvested in subordinates and 2. How the managers handled subordinates’ mistakes. The managers could see that availability and active, one-on-one involvement with individual subordinates were critical in developing effective relationships and thus exercising authority.

The author talks about how managers can develop power and exercise that.

Sources of Power
Sources of personal power
Expertise Relevant knowledge and skills
Track record Relevant experience
Attractiveness Attributes that others find appealing and identify with
Effort Expenditure of time and energy
Sources of positional power
Formal authority Position in hierarchy and prescribe responsibilities
Relevance Relationship between task and organizational objectives
Centrality Position in key networks
Autonomy Amount of discretion in a position
Visibility Degree to which performance can be seen by others

The management is as much a position of dependence as a position of authority. Managers found out that knowing the right answer was much easier than selling it. If the subordinates were consulted on a matter, they accepted some ownership of it. Subordinates like to be noticed, even if it is just by writing a letter or making a phone call. Philosophy of publicly praising and privately criticising worked wonders for managers. Managers have the ability to hire and fire, but the moment they rely on that authority or imply it, the battle is lost.

Gaining Self- knowledge – Research conducted by the author proves that managers have to learn that you can only do your best and your best may not be good enough. You just can’t please all the people. Having the patience to listen and being a good listener were defined as critical managerial tools. A skill related to patience and listening was the ability to empathize.

Coping with Stresses and Emotions –  As one new manager stated, “I never knew a promotion could be so painful”.

The managers have to cope up with four stresses: Role strain, negativity, isolation and the burden of leadership responsibilities. This situation is also referred to as Heap reversal theory – When a top individual performer is taken from top of a heap and place on bottom of another heap. Instead of being superstar sales rep, he now is the newest supervisor who does not know the ropes. It creates feeling of loneliness, alienation and uncertainty. During this painful transition, the key player is the manager of manager, who has to act as Coach and guides the new manager.

Dispelling the myths of management – Managing change is what differentiates effective managers from the rest.

What it means to manage
Myth Reality
Operative principle Authority Interdependency
Key players Subordinates Include those outside your formal authority
Source of power Formal authority “Everything but”
Focus Managing one-on-one Managing one-on-one and leading the team
Desired outcome Control through compliance Cope with complexity and change
Essential competencies Technical Technical, human, conceptual

Author emphasized that teaching management is like teaching someone how to ride a bike. Until a person gets on a bike and start riding it and fall down a couple of times themselves, they just can’t know it. If on-the-job experience was quintessential teacher for the new managers, the second most important teacher was observing and interacting with co-workers: past and current bosses and past and current associates (principally peers).

Aptly put by the author, Linda A. Hill, “Becoming an effective manager is a lifelong process of learning and development”.

Why should you read the book: I would recommend it as compulsory reading for all Human Resource professionals, Department Heads and newly promoted managers. This book teaches about nuances of Leadership Development, which continues to be most pressing need for organisations.

Goodreads Link: Becoming a Manager: How New Managers Master the Challenges of Leadership by Linda A. Hill | Goodreads