The Coveted Manager Job–Grappling with a 3-Headed Monster

Finally, you’re a manager. You are now responsible for bigger things. The way you lead and the performance of your employees are what determine your value.

Pretty heavy stuff, eh?

We often covet those “big” job titles without knowing what’s expected. That old line, “Be careful what you wish for,” is a legitimate warning.

What a manager’s job looks like on the surface isn’t always what it is in reality. The sad truth is that when it’s your turn to be the manager, no one really tells you what you’re getting into. So you’d better ask.

Go on high alert!

No one wants their long-desired manager promotion to become a living hell.

In Greek mythology, the three-headed dog, Cerberus, guarded the gates of the Underworld so that no one (specifically, the dead) could get in or out without permission from the god Hades.

The better plan was to avoid heading hell-bound in the first place. The same is true when taking on a job as manager.

When it comes to hiring or promoting you as a manager, management is keenly aware of three things–your:

  • Readiness and desire
  • Knowledge and skills
  • Fit with employees and peers

Management may or may not be right about you, but these are the criteria that they’re using to make the decision. In some cases management may or may not be effective themselves. So you need to be careful about how you hear and process their offer.

Demand to know.

All manager jobs are not created equal.

You need know what kind of work group, function, or cluster of departments you are to manage and whether you’re ready to grapple with the monster facing you.

Manager jobs essentially fall into three categories which means, to be effective, you need to know if you are cut out for the task.

1. Maintaining the status quo: When you take over a work group that works well together and consistently meets performance expectations, you need to be comfortable supporting the way things are being done. Your role is to keep the wheels turning, reinforcing what’s effective and collaborating with employees  on any fine-tuning.

If you’re one who is numbed by the warm hum of a well-oiled machine all day or can’t resist poking the sleeping beast just to get a rise out of it, then this manager role isn’t for you.

2. Fixing a mess: Work group dysfunction, poor output, and/or declining relevance are often reasons why you’ve been chosen as the new manager. In these situations, processes are often broken, performance management is lax, and innovation is dormant. Your role is to make big change, deal with resistance, and take risks.

If you hate conflict, lack internal political savvy, don’t know how to leverage relationships, and are unwilling to be personally accountable for your decisions, then you need to rethink this job. Fixing a mess is arduous and often slow, so you’ll need to do some soul searching and/or even defer this kind of challenge for a while.

3. Creating something new: The need to create a new department  spawns the need for a new manager. Sometimes a new product/service line is the reason or the need to expand or split an existing function. Your role is to organize, staff, and deliver results, dealing with doubters and managing expectations.

If you have a low tolerance for ambiguity, thin skin, fear of failure, and an inability to turn abstract ideas into concrete output, then starting from scratch may not be the best fit for you. When your manager job requires you to become an internal entrepreneur literally,  that role needs to be in your blood.

Tame the monster.

Managing a work group can be exciting and fulfilling, but, like every job, it needs to fit you. Every monster can be tamed so you have to be smart about the ones you grapple with.

So look hard at the manager job you covet and make sure you’re clear about what you’d be getting into. Then take on the challenge with all you’ve got!

Image from PEU Report

Hungry for a Great Internship? Know Where to Find the Meat.

Internships are considered a must-have for many college students (and even some high schoolers) looking for a leg up in getting a job upon graduation. They hunt to find them, compete to get them, and strive to multiply them–all for good reason.

Internships are real workplace experiences that build and showcase the job knowledge, skills, and behaviors essential to career success.

So why do so many complain about those internships once they’ve been landed?

  • The work is too menial. I feel like a lackey.
  • I don’t have enough autonomy.
  • There’s too much/too little/no supervision.
  • I’m left on my own to figure out what to do.
  • I do all this work and don’t get paid (or am paid a paltry sum).

Welcome to the business world!

There is often a misconception that, once you get a real job with a real title, all the work is meaty, independent initiatives are applauded, your supervisor is supportive, and the compensation commensurate with the work. Sorry this isn’t so, but internships can help you recalibrate your expectations.

Internship Lesson #1: Teach yourself to see and understand the realities of the work place and what drives it.

You can’t see what’s really going on unless you look. Too many student interns limit their focus to the work they are asked to perform and not the experience as a whole.

Initially, there’s good reason for that: the tasks are new to them and they want to do them well. That’s a good thing but not the only thing.

The real meat is between the bun.

Internship Lesson #2:  Learn what did or did not fit you about the company, the work, and/or the environment and why.

Your internship helps clarify what you need from a job to perform at your best and stay motivated.

That means discovering are how effectively you:

  • Handle ambiguity and too little/too much direction
  • Perform under pressure
  • Communicate with executives, managers, your boss, and coworkers
  • Overcome flagging self-confidence and self-doubt
  • Use strengths and overcome weaknesses
  • Make independent decisions and come up with new ideas
  • See your work in the context of the company’s big picture
  • Influence or take the lead when there’s an opportunity
  • Stay positive and avoid getting caught up in office gripes
  • Put knowledge and skills to use in the right way

You need to make your internship as much about discovering who you are within the dynamics of the job as you do about future line items on your resume.

Here comes the judge.

This week I served on a panel to judge internship presentations at a local university. The fifteen students in this six hour undergraduate course interned with major corporations like AT&T, Guardian Life, Allstate, Abercrombie & Fitch and small businesses including a restaurant, spa/pool company, law office, and long-term care facility. Most students were business and/or marketing majors.

The students who stood out were those who discovered the most about themselves while interning. One learned he didn’t want to be in law because he knew he couldn’t defend someone he knew had committed the crime. Another loved the company she interned with (they wanted to hire her) but realized she wanted to work for a large firm. Two other students surprised themselves at how effective they were talking to front-line employees as well as the company president, seeing how they were able to adapt their communications styles successfully. Others learned how it felt to own and defend their web design assignments.

Win-win internships

There are no bad internships unless you choose not to learn anything from them. Every business is fascinating in its own right. Each has a unique business model, leader-driven culture, performance history, cadre of employees, and customers/clients. No matter what your internship role, you are always in a position to observe, explore, and contribute. So whenever you can, take a big bite and savor the flavor.

Photo from Lego-LM via Flickr

When the Job Fits, Wear It. | Discovering What Matters

Ask people what they hate about their jobs and they don’t hesitate to say things like: 

  • “The work is boring.”
  • “It’s a dead end.”
  • “My boss is useless.” 

Ask them what they like and they pause a bit, then say: 

  • “Well, I’m glad I have one.”
  • “I work with some nice people.”
  • “There are some good days.” 

We can do better than this. Actually, we need to do better. 

Why? Because our jobs are about us—who we are, what we bring, how we connect, and where we’re headed. 

A job is not a static thing. It’s a living manifestation of our actions. 

Discover what matters. 

On the surface a job looks like a compilation of duties, task, and requirements. When we only work on the surface, we fail to see what’s below. 

It’s a bit like swimming in the ocean without any awareness that beneath us there are colonies of species struggling to survive, wreckages waiting to be discovered, and mysteries of the earth’s formation. 

Every job we experience is an opportunity to discover what matters to us. That’s how we figure out what we need from each subsequent job to make our careers worthwhile. 

Not long ago, I met Donna, a personal care aid for the elderly. She worked at a church-run home that sadly was closing. She was losing her job and I was there to provide career next-step ideas and tools. 

Even though Donna was disappointed, she was upbeat. She’d worked all her life in service-related jobs—a waitress at various restaurants and a clearing person for individuals and businesses. She loved working, being busy, engaged with others, feeling energized. 

There were several good transition options for Donna, particularly setting up an actual cleaning services business where she could hire others as independent cleaning people to handle anticipated volume. Our meeting was going beautifully. 

Then I asked Donna how she felt about closing the door on her work with the elderly. Suddenly, her mood changed.

She told me that the previous day, she and the two other women who worked with her as a care team went to visit several of the residents relocated to a nearby facility. Then she started to cry. 

“What’s wrong, Donna?” I asked. 

She answered, “It was so hard going there and seeing that someone else was taking care of the people I took care of. It was hard for me to give them up.” 

Donna came to realize that her job wasn’t about administering medication, helping people dress and stay clean, or ensuring their safety. It was about that important the sense of personal fulfillment and connection that comes from doing for others. 

That core realization is something we each need to discover. When we do, our career path decisions are made easier. 

Find the right fit. 

We tend to understand what a job has meant to us when we don’t have it anymore. So if you want to jump-start your understanding of what matters to you, think about bygone jobs. 

Ask yourself: 

  • What work did I miss when I moved on?
  • Who did I miss and why?
  • What part of myself did I feel like I’d left behind?

Now consider your current job, and ask yourself: 

  • What’s the real reason I do this work?
  • What do I really need/want to get out of my job? 

Your answers to these questions can help you discover the jobs that truly fit you. If you don’t like your answers, that may be a signal that you need to make a change. 

These lyrics sung by folk singer, Joni Mitchell, in “The Big Yellow Taxi” remind us how important it is to discover what matters to us before we run out of time to fully incorporate it into our careers:  

Don’t it always seem to go
That you don’t know what you’ve got
‘Til it’s gone
They paved paradise
And put up a parking lot

Please don’t let anyone, especially yourself, pave over your paradise.

Photo from Bonsailara1 via Flickr

Sizing Up Your Job—5 Signs It’s the Right Fit

A job is like any other relationship—it has its ups and downs. Some days we have nice things to say about it and on others we don’t.                       

Too often we’re likely to find ourselves among coworkers caught up in job frustration discussions. Most “I-hate-my-job” peer groups are eager to engage you as a new member. Every new complaint validates the old ones. 

Head for the hills! 

Negative associations drag us down. They’re like trying to swim against a rip current with your business suit on. 

We’re all better off looking at our jobs through a wide-angle lens. Our careers are built by each succeeding job, so we need to adopt a big picture view of where our current jobs can lead us. 

Not every job is worth keeping and not every company the right place. So it’s important to assess your job objectively to understand its true career heft. 

Start by inventorying what’s good about your job and then weigh those factors against what’s frustrating you. When you put the positives and the negative on a scale, you can see which side carries the most weight. You might be surprised at the gram weight of the good stuff. 

5 Good Signs 

We need to pay attention to the positive signs that our jobs are a good fit for us. Here are five indicators that your job is giving you what you need:  

  1. Change energizes: When you’re in the right job, you see change as an opportunity. To you it means an exciting new problem to solve, obstacles to vault, creative solutions to discover, and growth opportunities to explore. (Think of Steve Jobs and his many Apple employees.)
  2. Coworkers inspire: The people you work with encourage, motivate, and inspire you. They bring a spirit, humor, and can-do eagerness that bring out your best. A company that attracts people that you enjoy working with may be just the place to build a career. (Think of the sentiments expressed by the casts, past and present, from Saturday Night Live.)
  3. Your ideas count: It’s enormously motivating to have your ideas heard, considered, and acted upon. Your boss may be a pain in some ways, but if s/he listens to you and is influenced by what you say, that means something. Jobs that allow for innovation can make a difference. So when you have one, there’s value in building on it. (Think of anyone you know who has a patent, a copyright, or program to boast.)
  4. Reward is meaningful: Your value needs to be recognized both in tangible and intangible ways. A good job includes positive feedback (given privately or publicly), growth opportunities, a motivating performance appraisal, and fair compensation, including raises. Incremental reward is a positive sign that you’re in a good place and positioned to increase it. (Think of your job and salary history.)
  5. There are places to go: Dead-end jobs are in many ways like broken promises. When you see that your job can become a springboard to different work you’d like to do, you have a sense of future. A satisfying career doesn’t just mean climbing the ladder; it also means successfully navigating the coastline. Meaningful work in good jobs with the support of good bosses can signal the right fit. (Think of Katie Couric, a one-time beat reporter, Today Show co-host, then a news anchor, and upcoming talk-show host.) 

Let the work guide you. 

Jobs are about work. If your work and the company don’t float your boat, your career will sink, go adrift, or take you so far out to sea you’ll feel lost. 

Chris Martin, lead singer for the British alternative, rock band, Cold Play, said about his job as a songwriter:”You have to work hard, but it’s not hard work.” When that’s our truth, we know we’re in a job that’s the right fit for us. 

Photo from omnos via Flickr