A Good Manager Wants To Manage People

A constituent part of being a good manager is considering if you actually want to manage people.

After 15+ years of observation and HR experience, my sense is this: "I want to manage people" isn't the reason most people become managers. Some people want more money, a cooler title, power, authority. A lot of people want meaningful career advancement, autonomy over their work, more interesting problems to solve. Sometimes a person might even decide "I can do my boss' job better than they're doing it..." and set out to prove themselves correct.

Whatever the reason, unfortunately, very few people become managers because they want to learn the strengths and weaknesses of every person who reports to them, figure out where those people want to go in their careers, and do what they can to aid those people on their journey. That's left America's workplaces and employees in a tough position: we have a lot of employees who need good managers, and a lot of managers who aren't particularly excited about the job.

The need for good managers hasn't gone unnoticed... we do ask questions like:

  • Who would be a good manager?
  • What tools do managers need?
  • Is there a magical management technique that will fix all of our problems?

While those aren't entirely bad questions to ask, our first question should be a different one: Who genuinely wants the work of helping people be their best?

Realistically, we already have a society full of managers and we can't reposition them en masse. Nevertheless, honestly assessing whether a manager truly wants to manage people is the beginning of a more accurate diagnostic process, which allows the manager and organization to set more realistic goals and bring more effective support to bear.

Idealistically, we should disentangle the advancement of strategic and technical skill from the advancement of people management skill. Any given company would likely achieve better results[1] by crafting ways for employees to provide increasingly complex strategic and technical value without a parallel requirement to provide people leadership value.

Being a good manager is an on-going practice, not a training course attended, management book assigned, or blog post read. That said, the practice is best begun by considering if the manager actually wants the job of managing people.

  1. And have a happier employee population, which also contributes to better results. (And is an inherent good, I would argue.) ↩︎