Are You Cut Out to Be a Boss?

Being the boss is about more than a pay bump and a prestigious title.

By + More

Starting to think you might be ready for a management role? Before you make the move, make sure you've thought through what it really takes to be a manager. Parts of the job are painfully hard, and the role isn't for everyone. For instance…

TH_OV_alisongreen.jpg
Alison Green
Can you deliver difficult criticism and have tough conversations? As a manager, you'll need to have some very difficult conversations—from telling an employee she has body odor to telling an employee who's genuinely trying hard that she's in danger of being fired if her performance doesn't improve. If you shy away from these sorts of discussions, management will be torture for you—as well as for your employees, who will be counting on you to be direct.

Can you make hard decisions about goals and priorities, and say no to things that don't advance those goals? It's easy to Monday-morning-quarterback your manager's decisions and say that the team should have taken on Project A and declined Project B … but when you're the manager, those decisions are a lot harder. Can you lay out a vision for your team, set goals and timelines around it, hold people accountable to meeting those goals, and be disciplined about saying no to activities that won't drive you forward toward your objectives? Many managers struggle with pieces of this—especially saying no to projects that sound worthy but belong lower on the priority list.

Do you feel comfortable exercising authority, including with people older and more experienced than you? One of the hardest things for new managers—as well as some more experienced managers—is getting over their awkwardness about being the person calling the shots. It's particularly challenging when you're managing former peers or people with far more experience than you. Many managers respond by becoming overly hesitant or overly aggressive. Can you get the balance right?

Do you know how to get things done without resorting to fear tactics? Weak managers often resort to getting things done through rigid control, a climate of fear and anxiety, and behaviors like yelling and making unreasonable demands. Will you be able to calmly lay out expectations in an open and straightforward manner, hold people to them in a fair and positive manner, and back up your words with action without become negative or frustrated?

Can you represent the company even when you privately disagree with a decision from above you? As a member of your company's management team, part of your job is to represent that team to your staff, even when you don't agree with its decisions. That might mean presenting and enforcing a new policy on telecommuting that you privately don't support, or even laying off a staff member who you value when your division needs to make cuts. You can and should advocate for your point of view in private conversations with those above you, but you can't undermine the company's management by complaining about it to your team members.

Are you comfortable working with people smarter than you, or does it make you defensive? Part of your job as a manager is to build a strong team, and that means that ideally you'll be seeking out and hiring people who are smarter than you. Bad managers do the opposite of this—hiring people whose skills won't threaten them, and who they can feel superior to, which of course results in a weak team. Is your ego strong enough to oversee people whose skills might outshine yours?

Alison Green writes the popular Ask a Manager blog, where she dispenses advice on career, job search, and management issues. She's also the co-author of Managing to Change the World: The Nonprofit Manager's Guide to Getting Results, and former chief of staff of a successful nonprofit organization, where she oversaw day-to-day staff management, hiring, firing, and employee development.