Management

,

One of the challenges of our profession is moving people into management.

Often when a vacancy appears we promote the person who has been there the

longest, or the person with the strongest skills. In fact it happens so often

it's hard for me to call it an invalid strategy, but how effective it is depends

a lot on the manager that will be managing the new manager! The other piece to

the challenge is that many people want/try to move into management for a lot of

wrong reasons. Together those two problems often cause the stereotype of the

pointy eared manager to be all too true. This article is my take on how you can

decide if moving to management is right for you, and if you do want to pursue

that path, some steps you can take to get ready now.

Before we start, consider this; managing is a career of it's own. When you

become a manager all your technical skills don't become worthless, but they

become secondary to a whole set of new skills that you must acquire. I'm sure

many will disagree, but I prefer to work for a good manager with lesser

technical skills than a poor manager with great technical skills. I like

working for a manager that shields me from distractions, helps me with my

career, in general just makes being a manager look effortless. Managers get paid

to set direction, hire and retain staff, make decisions (to some degree),

accomplish goals, and to act as good stewards of the company resources. Nothing

in there requires them to be the alpha coder/DBA! I'm not suggesting you give up

your technical skills when you become a manager, but the truth is they will

atrophy over time if you insist on being a good manager because you put time

into the things that matter most and low level technical skills don't have the

same return on time investment they used to.

Let's start with the bad reasons for becoming a manager:

  • Wanting to make more money. Nothing wrong with wanting to leverage your

    skills and experience to increase your salary and corresponding ability to

    care for family, but many people who move up for this reason end up unhappy.

    Why? The main reason - a common theme you'll see throughout this article -

    is that they end up giving up the very skills that they enjoyed most. Before

    moving to management for more money make sure you've tried hard to get them

    to increase the salary cap on your current position, considered changing

    jobs for one with a higher salary cap, or even considered joining a

    consulting firm. I'll also add that salaries for first line managers aren't

    usually that much higher, it's the bonus (not guaranteed) of 0-20% that most

    are eligible for that makes the difference.

  • Because  we should aspire to move up. It's easy to feel like an

    under achiever if you don't aspire to management, and as you approach age 40

    (or number of your choice!) you may start to feel like everyone is passing

    you by. There's nothing wrong with being a career craftsman. If you enjoy

    the work and earn a premium for your experience you have nothing to

    apologize for!

  • We're tired of the IT treadmill/day to day grind. It's easy to get

    burned out on coding or restoring databases, or  with trying to learn

    all the new features and changes that happen in our world every few years.

    Moving into management will require learning a whole new set of skills -

    many people related - and dealing with the technology isn't going to go

    away. Ask yourself if changing jobs/focus would help, maybe you need to work

    with some people with skills greater than your own to challenge you, or

    maybe a job where you can mentor would help. Recharge first, then if

    management still looks good, then go for it.

  • Wanting to fix things that are broken. Nothing wrong with this goal and

    in practice you may well have to do it, but if you're moving into management

    only because of this, will you enjoy the job after it's fixed? What if you

    can't fix it (reality can be harsh)? If your focus is on technical issues

    consider strongly finding a position as a technical lead that will let you

    try to guide people and projects based on your hard won experience without

    the full scale move into management.

So, are there good reasons? Of course!

  • Your mojo has shifted. As we age and grow we all find our interests

    changing as result of our experiences. For some of us that means that we

    start to become less interested in technology for the sake of technology and

    more interested in using technology to solve a business problem (make

    money). You'll know when this happens and while it doesn't guarantee you'll

    be a good manager, it does mean you won't bemoan the degradation of your

    technical skills while you're learning the new craft.

  • You yearn to lead. I don't believe that leaders are born, most grow and

    evolve based on circumstance. For many of us it's entirely comfortable yet

    fun and challenging to work 'for the man' and just do the work that needs to

    be done, and to do it well. For others, nothing less than driving will make

    them happy and that's the start of being a leader.

Before you decide that you want to be a manager, consider some hard lessons

you're going to have to accept:

  • As a manager you get paid to get things done, things that are dictated

    by someone higher up. Fail to get it done and they'll just get someone else.

    Read that one a few times. It may sound simple, brutal, or just stupid, but

    it's absolutely the way the world is.

  • You'll have to keep secrets from your team. It may be an upcoming

    merger, acquisition, layoffs, even planning to fire a poor performer, but as

    a manager you'll be privy to things you cannot share.

  • You have to be able to look someone in the eye and criticize them and in

    some cases, fire them. Look at your team right now and imagine being

    promoted. Could you fire the non performer, or candidly (but tactfully) tell

    someone your senior that they are making mistakes or not getting work done

    appropriately?

  • You have to be willing and able to delegate work. This sounds easy, but

    in practice it feels like it takes longer to explain a task than to just do

    it. It also sucks when you delegate something, they screw it up, and you

    have to pay. Successful delegation separates great managers from good ones.

  • No one is going to check on you to make sure your work is being done. If

    you're not 100% self motivated, think twice.

  • Your peers are now managers, and not necessarily technical managers.

    Yes, you can still go to lunch with the team, but you will need to spend a

    lot more time with your peers to be effective.

  • You can't be the alpha geek and manage. Maybe one in a thousand of you

    will be the exception, but for most of us mortals it's just too much. We'll

    keep up on technology and try to lend a hand now and then, but slowly we'll

    fall back to the middle of the pack.

  • Dealing with people is hard. They tend to test the fences constantly,

    stray off task, argue with each other, and in general want you to solve all

    their problems personal and professional. My friend Steve says his rule is

    to 'treat them all the same but differently'. When you can understand that

    grasshopper, you have learned!

  • Manager's don't get trained to be managers. They are thrown in the deep

    end and told to swim. If you sink, they just get another one!

So I haven't talked you out of being a manager? Good! We need good managers

in our profession and if you've come this far without ranting at me, you might

well make it! The truth is you're going to have to learn a lot of lessons the

hard way, but I'll share some tips from my various times managing:

  • Start to pay attention to the way your current manager does things.

    Which things work and which don't? See if you can build a rapport that will

    allow you to ask for insight into 'what made you decide this way instead of

    that way'. If you see that your manager isn't very effective, look for one

    that is. A good role model is invaluable in that 1-2 years before you decide

    to seek a management job.

  • Take any management training they do offer. Some of it will be useful,

    some won't, but it will help you to see what things are important to a

    manager and help you confirm (or regret) your decision to try to move to

    management.

  • From 8 to 5 be a manager. Manage and lead the team during the day, then

    code or tune or whatever from 5 pm until as late as you care to work, just

    be in at 8 am the next morning. This makes sure you do your job

    first.

  • Buy a time management book and read it twice. Time management will have

    more to do with your success or failure than you might think, and it leads

    back to delegation.

  • The first job you take as a manager should be a very carefully thought

    out decision. For that first job you want to work for a manager that can

    coach you to success, not just throw you in the pool. If your manager was

    only so-so and they were just promoted, do you really want to work for them?

    It's tempting to take the first opportunity that comes along, but don't!

  • If you feel like you're failing step back and think; what would the next

    person do differently that I'm not doing?

  • Working harder is never the answer. This is partly time management, but

    it's really a larger philosophy. Working harder/longer works for a time when

    we can do the work from muscle memory. It doesn't work for creative work.

    You can't afford to be tired and irritable with your team or your boss, they

    deserve (and expect) you at 100% during the day.

  • I have two barometers I use for technical managers. One is that I expect

    to normally get a reply to any email to them within one business day. The

    other is asking them how much time they spend on 'nice to have' tasks like

    sending people to training, or implementing new processes. If it isn't

    happening I know they are mired in details.

Finally, even if you try management and ultimately decide to return to being

a DBA or developer, don't count that as a failure. I guarantee it will make you

a better employee and will give you a better appreciation for the relative

simplicity of just having to worry about what you need to get done. I look

forward to your comments.

I blog once a week or so at

http://blogs.sqlservercentral.com/andy_warren/default.aspx about

SQL Server, SQL user groups, and related topics. I hope you'll visit and comment

occasionally!

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