May 7, 2021
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Advice from Jill Geisler, Bill Plante Chair in Leadership & Media Integrity, Loyola University Chicago, Freedom Forum Fellow in Women’s Leadership

When your bosses ask you to join their ranks, it’s generally considered a good thing. It means people appreciate the quality of your work and your ideas. They may have observed your influence on others as an informal leader. They’re willing to bet that you can build on that base talent and goodwill through a more formalized role as a supervisor.

I say that’s generally a good thing. The exceptions are if you work for some very flawed leaders and don’t see an upside to identifying with them, or if your organization has downsized so much that they’re appointing anyone with a pulse into supervisory roles, including the unwilling or unable.

But let’s set the dysfunctional exceptions aside and focus on a healthy situation. It’s a good organization and they’ve asked you to consider moving to management. You like your current role, but you’re intrigued about the opportunity. You want to think it through, and I’m happy to help you.

Here are six things to keep in mind about management life.

You will have more power - and the joys and challenges that come with it. Managers have a greater span of control than employees. You can green-light good ideas and put a stop to bad practices. You can raise the quality of the work and the work environment you supervise. You can improve communication, collaboration, morale, diversity, equity and inclusion. But, while you can do some of it independently, other changes may be constrained by the structure or leadership of your organization. As you consider accepting a management role, do a clear-eyed analysis of whether your bosses want you to maintain a status quo you know to be flawed or use your power to improve it. Check to see what resources will exist for upgrades that require investment. Will you be set up to succeed - or fail?

You will earn somewhat more than you’re now earning. You’ll very likely get a pay increase, which you should negotiate. Research says women often hesitate because of potential negative consequences. Go forward anyway. The future raises you receive are all built on the base you establish today. Create the best foundation you can. (Oh, and don’t be surprised that even with that raise, you may supervise frontline performers on your team who earn more than you, due to “stardom,” tenure or even overtime.)

Your hours will expand. That’s another reason you deserve higher pay. While you don’t turn your whole life over to the organization, you’re no longer bound by a completely normal or even fully predictable schedule. You make yourself available across shifts, for off-hours decisions that only you can make, for people who call you with concerns or in crisis, for surprise meetings called by your bosses, and for pop-up projects and opportunities that find you working long days and weeks. Don’t, however, judge your success as a manager by whether you are always the first to arrive and the last to leave. Learn to pace yourself and to delegate. You won’t be effective if you’re running on empty.

You will need to learn new skills. Your talent as a frontline employee was great. Managers need another deep skill set: Emotional intelligence, performance and change management, leading a diverse workforce, strategic thinking, conflict resolution, collaboration, communication, coaching, goal-setting, finance and budgeting, hiring and negotiations. You can read up on these skills, get mentoring, and learn from your mistakes. But ideally, your organization will also invest in some training. Ask for it.

You will make mistakes. Mistakes are inevitable, especially for newbies. You’ll trust too much or too little. Your well-intentioned critique might come across as too harsh. Your desire for harmony may keep a problem festering. You may focus on one set of issues to the detriment of another. Of course, you should try to avoid those mistakes, but if you make them, apologize. Sincerely. Specifically. Personally. If you do that (and don’t repeat the mistakes) you’ll survive and even thrive.

You won’t lose good friends. Getting promoted from the ranks means you’ll supervise people who were your comrades-in-arms. Don’t worry about losing their friendship because you are now responsible for evaluating and directing them. If your friendships were built on strong values, they will endure in whatever roles you hold. Your friends won’t expect or get special treatment because of your history, nor will you change your concern for their well-being because you’re now tending to many employees’ needs and interests. You will simply make it work.

If you read these six points and your reaction was, “I can do this” - then go for it, with my blessing. 

And remember: The most important thing leaders do is help others succeed.

Click here to read Jill’s previous columns.
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