I'm continuing to write about my "management style." This post is the second one about what I look for when considering transitioning someone from individual contributor to manager. It's closely related to my thoughts on leaders needing to lead.

Most managers have been approached by an employee saying "I want to become a manager," or words to that effect, and that's a good converstation starter. I'll always ask "Why?" next. What is motivating a person is critical to their success. Even if I don't have a position right now I still want to have this conversation.

If a person mentions something about the trapping's of management, like the extra nickel an hour they'll make, or because their spouse has told them they need a promotion, then I'll usually explain what I look for in leaders and if they start displaying those behaviours it might happen for them in the future. It's not going to happen right now but the door is open if they are willing to do the work.

If they reason they say they want to become a manager is along the lines of "because I've been in the group the longest," "my peers don't listen to me and I know more than they do," or "my peers are annoying me" (I've heard all these and worse) then the conversation is going to be much shorter. I'll explain how seniority has practically nothing to do with the decision making process or how there are better solutions for this particular problem.

Ideally the conversation shouldn't be a surprise to the manager. Most leaders can't help but lead and will be doing so regardless of if they have been invited to. Leaders can't help but lead. (How do you know if a person is a leader? They have followers.) On projects they get in front of the problems. On teams they help others succeed. When work needs to be done they take it on and complete it with pride.

Someone like this usually answers "Why do you want to be a manager?" along the lines of "Because I have some ideas on how this project could work better. Here's how I was thinking we could roll it out...", or "I want us to focus more on..."

From here I'll dig into what their vision is and check into all the other things that need to align to make it happen. If their vision is contrary to mine then it's not likely going to work out well. Maybe the best place for them is on a different team. If they don't have a vision give them some time to reflect. This is what separates the leaders from the managers.

"I want us to focus more on..." is what motivated me to become a manager. One of the people I was replacing was moving from IT into Engineering and complained "Customer Service isn't rewarded in IT." From what I saw I couldn't disagree. When the time came for my team to get a new manager I told our lead: "I'd like you to consider me because..." Terrible line, I wasn't ready, and this was much too late to start that conversation. They already had someone in mind so I said "OK. I'm going to support them just like I would want to be supported by my team. And I'm going to watch everything they do, good and bad, to learn what works and what doesn't." And I did just that.

From there I started asking how budgets were put together, how to get POs through, etc., and I put together my priorities for the team. I had a lot of conversations about this with my manager to make sure we were in sync.

When he got promoted I had made myself the obvious choice to be his replacement*. That was a great place to make sure my vision was baked into the fiber of the group.

  • If you want your boss's job do you can to get them promoted.