Excellent guide to the difficult parts of management

Sooner or later most managers realize that becoming an effective manager is an enormous challenge and taking a management course is not sufficient preparation, according to Linda Hill and Kent Lineback in their book Being the Boss: The 3 Imperatives for Becoming a Great Leader. Considerable personal change is required for a competent employee to become a skilled manager, and this includes acquiring the necessary skills, knowledge, values, outlook, self-knowledge, judgment and emotional competence.

A manager is responsible for the performance of a group of people, and this means the manager must influence not only what they do, but also the thoughts and feelings that drive their actions. There are many paradoxes in what managers must do, including:

  • You are responsible for what others do
  • To focus on the work, you must focus on the people doing the work
  • You must both develop your people and evaluate them
  • You must make your group a cohesive team without losing sight of the individuals on it
  • To manage your group, you must manage the larger context beyond your group
  • You must do some harm in order to do a greater good

The manager’s “3 imperatives” referred to in the title of the book are: manage yourself, manage your network, and manage your team. The bulk of the book is taken up describing ways in which these imperatives can be achieved. The authors help to make their theoretical advice concrete by using part of a fictional case study at the start of each chapter, illustrating a range of problems encountered by a technically competent individual who has recently been promoted to a managerial position.

Two key insights I gleaned from the book were the author’s view of the difference between a boss-employee relationship and a friend-friend relationship, and the returns that can be gained by cultivating a network of relationships inside and outside the organization. The boss-employee relationship works best as a cordial, genuinely caring relationship, but the primary goal is to do the work; bosses and direct reports are not equals, and a boss has to evaluate direct reports. While most people appreciate the importance of a network of relationships to personal career success, the authors point out that the success of a manager within an organization depends on securing the right resources for his or her team, and this requires gaining and exercising political power, which is done through relationships.

The book contains a number of self-assessment questions. These types of questions are often assess the reader’s vanity more effectively than the reader’s ability, but they do provide a helpful list of attributes that a manager needs to work on. New managers will find this book a great help when navigating unfamiliar territory, and even well-seasoned managers will find plenty of useful insights for their continuing leadership journey.

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