Myth #1: Once I am a manager, I can never go back

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Management is getting things done through other people – Henry Fayol (The father of management)

Great companies are always evaluating their leadership pipeline; trying to figure out who’s got the potential to be their next great leader. However, more and more potential leaders are choosing to stick to their individual contributor roles rather than grow their careers as a manager. Often people cite several reasons for doing this.  Here is one I’ve heard over and over again:

Myth #1: Once I am a manager, I can never go back. 

This simply is not the case. Most companies would rather have a great individual contributor who knows how to lead and mentor peers than an unhappy manager (even if you are a great manager).

DO I TAKE A PROMOTION? 

First, if you get tapped for a promotion, my suggestion is to take it. I’ve heard many people say that they are not ready to “leave” their current role and countless engineers say I’m not ready to leave engineering.  Taking the promotion does not sever ties with your technical expertise.  Instead, it means you’ll get to have a much bigger picture of whatever discipline you are being asked to manage. For instance, when I became a project manager, I suddenly became aware of my design decisions and their true impact on schedule and cost to a project. As an engineer, you understand these concepts, but once you are responsible for them, you start looking at your design decisions in a different light.

I personally think any opportunity which grows your career is something to seriously consider. You don’t know when the next role like this will come along. It could be a couple years. So if you’re ambitious, go for it. It opens the door for you to get future opportunities in two roles, rather than only one.

WHAT IS BEING A MANAGER LIKE? 

I often make the metaphor that management is like working on a table. When you are an individual contributor, you may be aware that the team is working on a table, but you only really know the details about the felt pad on the bottom of one of the table legs. As a manager, you understand the entire scope of the table, including its cost, supplies, finishes and assembly.

Being a manager means you get things done through other people. Which means your primary skill is delegation. That may be an oversimplification of management, but that is the jist of it. The better you are at breaking down large, complicated tasks, the more likely you’ll be better at delegating. Of course there is a fine balance between delegating too large or too small of a task. That is something you’ll learn to finesse over time and experience.

Also since you’re relying on other people to get work done, there is a part of the job that makes you part coach. You’ll need to determine what is the best way to motivate team members to complete objectives on a timeline. This is the most overlooked and underdeveloped skill, in my opinion. Many managers, overly rely on their position of authority and will prefer to just break down tasks down to such a low level that they are basically micro-managing team members. which doesn’t promote trust and can grow resentment. On the other hand, other managers prefer to “Trust” their team and provide very little input, which often leads to a lack of alignment and expectations to a company’s mission.

HOW DO I ENSURE I’M SUCCESSFUL AS A MANAGER?

When you get tapped for a leadership role, you should be discussing a training and coaching plan to make sure you are successful at the job. All good plans aren’t success based. They take into account some kinds of risks, and how to mitigate them. When planning for your success, make sure your leaders plan for the risk: you don’t like the job. The plan should have regular check-in points where you can “off-ramp” back to another role or your previous role if you find management isn’t for you.

In the off case, you really have no position to go back to… I have this to say: to this day I still get job offers as an Electrical Engineer, which is the first role I had coming out of college. I haven’t been an individual contributor for over 15 years, but it doesn’t stop recruiters from pinging me. So in my experience, if your company doesn’t have an off-ramp to get you back to being an individual contributor, it is not a big deal you can find another job somewhere else.

HOW WILL AI CHANGE THE DISCIPLINE OF MANAGEMENT

Being a manager is like learning how to ski, it’s easy to learn but difficult to master. As I stated above, a manager needs to find balance. Executing poorly on delegation and motivation often leads to disastrous cultural consequences that are difficult to repair and overcome. This balance takes years to develop. Traditionally, managers that have the means have relied on coaches from expensive management consultants to help grow these skills. Others rely on short term training classes, like Dale Carnegie, to help them grow. However both approaches are limited by the skill of the coach and its effects will likely wane with time.

Unlike traditional management coaching AI Manager is with every manager at every level of an organization, all the time. AI Manger helps managers refine their skills and become master leaders. By providing coaching as leaders communicate with their team, AI Manager can help leaders develop the crucial balance between trust and delegation, reducing cultural issues and allowing teams to grow and thrive. Teams with effective managers are 3x more likely to have highly engaged teams that care about their customers. Similar to Olympic coaching, AI Manager is with leaders all the time, helping to correct issues as they arise and providing recommendations on a timely basis so that bad habits are eliminated, allowing for the true mastery of management.

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