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Born To Be a Manager May 12, 2009

Posted by Tim Rodgers in Management & leadership.
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A few years ago there were openings for two first-level managers in my group. Eighteen people applied, almost all of them from within the organization. I decided to put every applicant through a face-to-face, 30-minute, screening interview. It was a big investment of time, and certainly many of the applicants weren’t really qualified. Nevertheless, I wanted to give each person the opportunity to make their case, while giving me the opportunity to provide some feedback and coaching on the subject of management.

My first question was a simple one: “Why do you want to be a manager?” None of the applicants had been a manager before, and I wanted to understand their inspiration for taking this big step. Almost every person gave me a variant of the same answer, essentially staking their claim to a management position because they had been an engineer for 2 years or 5 years or 10 years and now it was “time,” or “their turn.”

Every time I heard that answer I had to stifle my initial reaction. I wanted to say: “That’s all I needed to know. The interview is over. Thanks for your interest.” I didn’t do that. I went through my list of prepared questions and each person got their full 30 minutes.

You don’t earn your right to be a manager because you’ve put X number of years into being an individual contributor. Unfortunately that’s how a lot of people end up in management, much to the sorrow of the organization, and I believe ultimately to their sorrow as well. It’s a completely different job that requires a completely different set of skills, and success in one does not imply success in the other. What I was looking for from the job candidates was an understanding of that fact, and an appreciation for the significant step they declared themselves ready to take. Management is a skill that can be acquired, but it’s a deliberate process, not some kind of osmosis.

How would I answer that question “Why do you want to be a manager?” I was born to be a manager. It’s what I’m supposed to be doing. It’s the role that best matches my skills and talents. I’m a much better manager than an engineer. One nice thing about getting older is that you start to figure out what you’re good at and what you’re not good at.

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1. The Limits of Power « Managing in the 2000s - December 17, 2011

[…] About seven years ago I needed to hire a couple of first-level managers for a growing team. There were quite a few people already in the group who believed they were qualified for the job, and I decided to open the process to all internal candidates. Everyone who applied got a 30-minute screening interview. I asked questions that were intended to help me assess each person’s maturity and readiness for a management job, and I hope each person learned something from the conversation that helped them reflect on their own motivation for management. I wrote about this process in one of my earliest blog posts: Born To Be a Manager. […]


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