Balancing act: Thanks, bosses, for unexpected opportunities
I have a confession to make, and it's one that will explain a lot to the people I've managed at various companies over the years.
Here goes: I have no formal management training.
Whew! What a relief to get that secret off my chest!
(Those who have worked with me are saying, "Aha! Now it all makes sense!")
I have taken a few "principles of management" classes during my career, but I don't have any kind of administration or management credential to put after my name on my résumé.
Rather, I was trained to be a journalist. My college classes focused on newswriting, editing, page design and the like.
While I was in school, lo those many years ago, it seemed like those classes would suffice. I aspired to be a newspaper reporter, and I assumed that I would continue in various reporting gigs throughout my career.
But a funny thing happened on the way to that assumed destiny.
An editor position opened at one of the newspapers at which I worked, and my boss offered me the job. (I assume this offer was made out of desperation, but I never asked, and I don't really want to know.)
Without thinking of the effect this would have on my reporting career — but focusing, instead, on the chance to make a few extra cents per hour to help support my growing family — I took the job.
I didn't have any idea how to manage people or be "the boss," so I survived my first few years by following my instincts, by seeking the advice of my dad and father-in-law and by mimicking the behaviors of my own favorite supervisors.
Fortunately, I didn't flame out or fail spectacularly — or at least, nobody told me I did. So I continued to move into other management positions for various organizations, learning as I went by observing others, reading books and articles and seeking feedback from people with whom and for whom I worked.
And now, about 15 years after taking that first editor job, I find myself managing one permanent team of 10 people, serving as interim manager for another seven people, and thoroughly enjoying this job that I never expected to have.
I was talking to a colleague about this the other day. We were commenting on the fact that some supervisors love the part of the job that involves coming up with big ideas and trying to bring them to fruition, but not the part that includes managing a group of people on an everyday basis.
I found myself saying that I enjoyed the people management part of the job. And you know what? I really do.
That's not to say it's always fun. Sometimes working as a manager means you spend hours resolving squabbles between members of your team. Sometimes it means you have to lay off an employee, or participate in some other similarly odious task. And sometimes it means taking the blame from your superiors when one of your team members makes a mistake.
However, for me, the rewards — both in terms of higher pay and, more importantly, job satisfaction — have been worth the challenges.
That doesn't mean management is for everyone, though. A recent survey by Robert Half Technology, a provider of IT professionals on a project and full-time basis, found that only 15 percent of IT workers said they would prefer to manage others. On the other hand, 23 percent said they preferred to work as individual contributors, and 52 percent preferred both roles equally.
Of those respondents who said they would prefer to manage others, 56 percent said they enjoyed the coaching aspect of such a job. Another 20 percent said they liked the more defined career path of managers, and 11 percent said they preferred a management track due to the higher pay.
I found this interesting, but not surprising. As a manager, I agree that the additional pay that usually comes along with such jobs is great, but if you hate the work, it isn't worth the money.
Of the respondents to the Robert Half survey who said they preferred to work as individual contributors, 61 percent said they liked hands-on work more than directing others; 20 percent said they disliked the politics and personalities involved in managing other people; and 11 percent said they were afraid their skills would become outdated if they didn't use them regularly.
Again, I can relate. Many times during my years as a manager, especially in my first few editor jobs, I would find myself wishing for a return to my life as a reporter. I missed the fun of interviewing interesting people and the rush of writing a major story on a tight deadline. And I remembered how nice it was to be responsible only for myself.
I've also worried about losing whatever writing skills I may possess, which is why I'm glad I've continued producing this column even after leaving my full-time career as a journalist. I'm not saying my prose is going to change the world, but I do appreciate a weekly deadline that forces me to write.
And despite my occasional pining for life as a reporter, I wouldn't trade my management job now for a return to those days. For me, helping other people complete tasks, overcome obstacles and succeed is just as challenging and fulfilling as bagging an exclusive interview or wrapping up a deadline story.
And even as I'm grateful for my own job, I'm glad I've had some excellent bosses over the years who have supported and mentored me and helped me succeed.
Since Wednesday is Boss's Day, I want to take this opportunity to express my appreciation for them and their influence on my career. I've learned over the years just how hard it is to be a supervisor. Thanks for taking your own paths to management and helping me find mine.