Becoming a Manager
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Becoming a Manager

How New Managers Master the Challenges of Leadership

Linda A. Hill

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  1. 448 pages
  2. English
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  4. Available on iOS & Android
eBook - ePub

Becoming a Manager

How New Managers Master the Challenges of Leadership

Linda A. Hill

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About This Book

Harvard Business School professor and leadership guru Linda Hill illuminates what it takes to make the most crucial transition in your career – going from individual performer to competent manager.

  • A powerful framework and argument for understanding the transition from individual performer to manager.
  • Real-life stories and voices of managers as they make the transition.
  • Substantial research and analytical insights on myriad aspects of leadership and management.
  • Concrete advice on dealing effectively with organizational politics, developing and leading teams, evolving your leadership over the course of your career.

Audience: Broad audience of new and mid-level managers, as well as individual performers aspiring to or preparing for a management role--across industries and sectors.

Announced first printing: 25,000
Laydown goal: 4,000

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Learning What It Means to Be a Manager

To tell the story of the new managers’ experiences properly, we must start where they started, by asking what it means to be a manager and what a manager does. In this part of the book we consider how the new managers came to understand that the managerial role was distinct from the individual contributor role and how they began to embrace it.
The new managers learned through experience what it meant to be a manager—first, from their prior experience as individual contributors (observing their managers at work) and then, from their interactions with others while performing the functions and activities of management. Throughout their first year on the job, the managers reframed their understanding of what being a manager meant as they confronted the inevitable problems that came with their positions and the expectations of those with whom they worked.
They encountered many surprises, positive and negative, along the way. As the managers learned about the realities of managerial work, they were plagued by a particular kind of surprise that arises when tacit job expectations are not met or features of the job are not anticipated. The problems and expectations that did not fit their existing frameworks provided an incentive for them to further refine and modify their understanding. They grappled with three critical sets of problems: (1) how to reconcile their initial expectations of management with the realities of a manager’s daily life; (2) how to handle the numerous conflicts with their subordinates; and (3) how to make sense of and meet their superiors’ ambitious demands. With each surprise and each reframing, the managers better understood the complexities of the managerial role and moved toward a managerial identity.
Because the new managers’ understanding of what it means to be a manager was a distillation of expectations, their prior expectations, and the different claims of those with whom they came in contact, we must understand what those expectations were. In Chapter 1 we consider a blueprint of the managerial role and then the expectations of the new managers, their subordinates, their superiors, and their peers. (Unless otherwise specified, by peers I mean associates in other functional areas.) We concentrate on the managers’ prior expectations and those of subordinates, because these are critical in the new managers’ firstyear experiences.1 The blueprint of the managerial role serves as a reference point by which to identify similarities and differences in these expectations.
With this background, Chapters 2 and 3 document the evolutionary unfolding of the managers’ experiences as they learn what being a manager entails. It is an emotional tale, for not only does their behavior change (what they do and with whom), but also their attitudes are transformed (their mindset, priorities, and sources of self-esteem). In Chapter 2 we focus on the new managers’ experiences in the first half of the year, reconciling their expectations with the reality of managerial work and with subordinates’ expectations. In Chapter 3, we watch as the managers’ conceptions of their role become more complex and sophisticated in the second half of the year. Not until then do they begin to really integrate superior expectations into their understanding of managerial work and to adopt a more managerial identity.
Acknowledging superior expectations led them to appreciate more fully what it meant to be the person with the ultimate authority and accountability for the welfare of their unit. They began to recognize their place in the organization and to accept their agenda-setting and network-building responsibilities. As they began to integrate the myriad and often conflicting expectations of those with whom they worked, they began to forsake a once dearly held identity and in its place embrace another.


Setting the Stage


Initially the new managers had no real idea of what they had gotten themselves into. They could not appreciate the complexity and breadth of their new role. One of them reported:
I didn’t have the slightest idea what my job was. I walked in giggling and laughing because I had been promoted and had no idea what principles or style to be guided by. After the first day I felt like I had run into a brick wall.
No wonder the new managers found it difficult to make sense of and define their new role. Distinguished practitioners and academics have produced volumes about managerial work and proposed a variety of conceptualizations. One thing about which they all agree is that the managerial role is complex and demanding. It is a boundary-spanning position into which are built inherent tensions. Managers must juggle diverse, often ambiguous, responsibilities and are enmeshed in a web of relationships with people who often make conflicting demands: subordinates, bosses, and others inside and outside of the organization.1 As a result, the daily routine in management is often pressured, hectic, and fragmented.
They have to figure out what to do and how to act in all this apparent chaos of great uncertainty, diversity, and interdependence. Consequently, the managers have to develop and continually update agendas for the work unit. These agendas provide the framework and parameters within which they act. Kotter, an authority on managerial work, describes these agendas as made up of loosely connected goals and plans that address long- and shortterm responsibilities (for these managers, long term means one to five years) and many issues: financial (such as sales, expenses, income, and return on investment); business (such as product refinement or new product development, inventory levels, and market share); and organizational (such matters as organizational design, policies on human resource management, and management of subordinates’ performance).2 To implement their emerging agendas, managers must establish cooperative relationships with and among people in their networks.
As individual contributors, the people in this study had, in a sense, one agenda: direct performance of technical work; that is, selling products and services to specific clients. To meet this responsibility, of course, they had had to attend to their relationships with customers, bosses, and sometimes peers (the CCMs in particular had a limited number of peers with whom they had to cooperate to get tasks done). But their contributions to corporate goals were based primarily on individual thought and action.
Promotion to management, though, meant a major leap in scope, more people, dollars, functions, products, and markets to be managed. The managers’ contribution to corporate objectives was based on their influence on an entire unit. They had to get their work done through others. Consequently, they had to build and maintain larger and more diverse networks of relationships (including an entirely new group: subordinates). As the people with formal authority, they were accountable for making sense of and integrating the varied agendas of their constituencies. It was their task to form and negotiate agendas and orchestrate the work of those in their networks to complete those agendas and thereby gain the ends that their organizations desired.


We begin this account by describing the new managers’ initial expectations about their new roles—what they thought their most important responsibilities would be. Then we examine the points of view of key members of their internal networks: subordinates, superiors, and peers. The findings reported in this chapter are based on my first interviews with the various parties during the managers’ first weeks on the job. What follows is the result of my analysis and interpretations of responses to two open-ended questions: How would you describe the manager’s job? What is the manager supposed to do? Although the individual perspectives of managers, subordinates, superiors, and peers varied, clear consistencies appeared. In this chapter, these recurring patterns will be discussed. Important differences in the views will be presented later.
The new managers and those in their networks saw the managerial role differently. Each group’s perceptions were biased to suit their interests. The new managers’ initial expectations were shaped primarily by their motivation to move into management and by their experience as star producers. Hence, in defining their new role they focused heavily on their newly acquired formal authority and the agenda-setting responsibilities associated with sales. In contrast, they played down the second part of the role equation, that they were now primarily responsible for people, not the task. Their impression of their agendasetting and network-building responsibilities therefore was impoverished.
The subordinates, on the other hand, made light of the managers’ formal authority and stressed the managers’ role as working through or with others. The subordinates defined the managers’ agenda-setting and network-building responsibilities in a self-serving way: the managers’ task was first and foremost to make sure the subordinates’ personal agendas were fulfilled. The subordinates were most concerned that the managers not encroach on their territory and autonomy, and provide the context and resources the subordinates needed to derive success and satisfaction from their work.
The superiors, as you would expect, had the most comprehensive and most grounded view of being a manager. But they too revealed a bias. They emphasized the manager’s role as one of formal authority, especially the accountability it implied for everything occurring in a work unit. Because the superiors had their own agendas and counted on the managers to contribute to them, their principal concern was that the managers deliver on whatever goals the superiors set for them.
We spend little time on peers’ expectations, for the managers devoted little attention to them. Like the others in the managers’ networks, their peers defined the managerial role according to their own priorities. Because they held the formal authority, the managers were responsible for making sure that not only they, but also their subordinates, recognized and addressed their peers’ interests and requests.
In other words, each group had its own frame of reference to help make sense of the Byzantine maze of managerial work. We need to understand these frames, for they determined what each group chose to attend to, and as will become apparent, how they behaved.3 Exhibit 1-1 summarizes the varied definitions of the managerial role that we found, using as a reference point the conceptual model of managerial work presented earlier.


When asked to describe what it meant to be a manager, nearly all the managers began by discussing management’s rights and privileges, not its duties. They generally began by stating explicitly that being a manager meant being the boss:
Exhibit 1-1:
What It Means to Be a Manager: A Conceptual Model
Managerial role Constituency
New managers Subordinates Superiors Peers
Agenda setting
Financial x x
Business x x x
Organizational x x
Network building
Subordinates x x x
Superiors x
Peers x x
External others x
A manager is the person in charge.
The manager is the person in power, the authority, the expert.
Being the manager means running my own office, using my ideas and thoughts.
You’re on the other side of the desk. You hold their [the subordinates’] careers, their jobs, in the palm of your hand, so to speak.
It’s [the office] my baby. It’s my job to make sure it works.
Their replies were quite consistent: it meant being responsible and accountable, having power, and being in control. Most managers attributed their motivation to become managers above all to the opportunity to exercise power and control; having those, they assumed they would gain much-desired autonomy to do what they thought best. They would no longer be “burdened by the unreasonable demands of others”:
Now, I’ll be the one calling the shots. I like to have my own way, but the issue is not power over people. I just want the authority to control my own life.
I want to give my ideas a chance.
I worked for many managers through the years and I wasn’t happy with most of them. I began talking a lot to people and told them my philosophy about managing, and finally I said, I have to try it. I want a chance to treat people the way I always wanted to be treated.
With formal authority came decision-making responsibility and accountability. Most saw decision making as a major function in their new role as the authority figure:
I’m paid to make decisions. The buck stops here.
The ability to make a good decision, support it, and stick by it. The managers who have difficulty are the ones who struggle with making decisions, have trouble making them, and then have buyer’s remorse after they make them—they say, Was that really the right decision? You just can’t do that.
In this business you can’t play around. You have to be in charge because the well-being of the client and the firm is in your hands. Period.
From these quotations we see that the new managers focused mainly on decisions about sales and business, not people. They routinely spoke of only two kinds of people-management decisions: hiring and firing subordinates. Even potential interpersonal conflicts were often reduced to questions of technical judgment. One manager anticipated that she would be called upon frequently as arbiter in disputes between subordinates and customers....

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