So you want to be a People Manager?

I can’t recall where I’ve read it, but it’s still clear to my often cloudy mind. That wise quote from someone:

Dealing with people, will always be a mess.

This became reality to me when I became an active member of a local church back in 2008. It’s when I realized: just because God is perfect and good, doesn’t mean that His people will always conduct themselves accordingly (including me).

This mess of managing people became even clearer to me when I started handling sales teams 5 years later. Being a manager may sound exciting at the beginning. Time will however reveal that leading people can be very challenging to say the least.

The job demands instant adjustments to different personalities regardless of one’s own. Moods, personal struggles and ambitions are swept under the rug like secrets. The manager is expected to engage his people in constant and progressive conversations. But few, if any, check on the manager’s day and life.

It also requires the manager (the good ones) to constantly scan for mind tricks, manipulation, sincerity or a combination of both in his direct reports. This is especially true when dealing with smart individuals. Sadly, the adjectives ‘smart’, ‘nice’ and ‘honest’ aren’t necessarily found together in nature. The manager could handle people ranging from the arrogant but honest fool to the other extreme: the kind and friendly liar.

The people manager can also no longer function as an individual anymore to achieve what is expected of him. Motivating and disciplining one’s self is already hard as it is, imagine doing that for five more people or even more. With the new technologies and the volume of instant information available today, the manager can’t be the sole brain in a team anymore. He has to come to terms with the fact that his people may be more informed than he is. The brain of the team today is the whole team. And the manager should only be the facilitator and arbiter of the best ideas. This part of the role could be a struggle to the loners, control-freaks and the uber-competitive personalities.

Do you recall the saying: It’s lonely at the top? It not only is true, but it’s an understatement and occurs earlier down the line than one might think. It’s not just lonely at the very top, but also at the lower levels of team or middle managers. The manager has a lot of secrets to keep. He has no one else to share an ongoing investigation, an incomplete decision or personal hidden agendas – except perhaps his supervisors or a close friend he can trust. How about friendship between the manager and the team member? It’s possible. It depends on how one would differentiate a true friend from a casual colleague. It’s easy for things to get blurry especially when your friend continually needs your approval in many things. Finding a good friend within the manager’s circle is a rare find and a joy – one that should be celebrated… And so the people manager should not only be good at keeping secrets, he also must be good at handling loneliness and, perhaps, losing and gaining some friends along the way.

And then there’s the liability. Others would call it, command responsibility. It’s great during the good times. But it gets dark during the tough times. The manager is ultimately responsible for his people and for his decisions. Good decisions are for everyone to enjoy. Bad decisions are for the manager to bear on his own. Oh, there will be advisors and comforters, sure. But it’s the manager who stays up at night pondering and praying that he made the right call.

This is all on top of the manager’s regular functions of communicating, controlling, budgeting, auditing, administering and disciplining. As you can imagine, the modern people manager should also either be an excellent multi-tasker or a person who really knows how to choose his priorities.

Despite all these, people management provides immense value to the individuals who wield it. And it’s not the monetary incentives. People management takes you to personal horizons you never knew was there. The maturity that develops as a result of going through the challenges and stressors regularly over a long period of time provide strengths that spill out of the work place. One of the priceless rewards is seeing an employee bloom from a demotivated worker to a highly effective model employee after going through mentorship with you. It also, eventually, takes you to a point when it whispers to you, “See? You’re now ready for something bigger than this…”

It’s like a sword or a gun, if you will. In the wrong hands, it can wreak long-term extensive damage. In the right hands, it can expand territories and achieve great things. Much of it depends on the one who weilds it.