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It’s a duck…

Managing people can be a challenging; rewarding; and sometimes messy business, true?  For all the talk about employee engagement, front line “supervision” seems to remain a consistent phenomenon in our business world.  Are employees just incorrigible?

As one IT Professional put it; “We’ve been reorganized, restructured, re-engineered, right-sized, down-sized, up-sized, TQM’ed, and MBO’ed, and if I hear the word empowered once more, I swear I’m gonna scream!” 

Geoffrey James

What happens to us when we get promoted to a manager?

Man-a-ger (man-i-gir) n 1. Coach, Teacher, instructor, Leader 2. Mr. Know-It-All, Ego with Legs 3. One who has or will have an ulcer 4. One who apologizes to subordinates for the stupid actions of superiors 5. One who apologizes to superiors for the actions of subordinates.

What’s the key to being a successful manager?  Hall of Fame baseball manager Casey Stengel had this philosophy:

The secret of managing is to keep the guys who hate you away from the guys who are undecided.

With all the animosity and bad jokes about management, many of us still seek that big promotion, don’t we?  In some companies (mine included) a sort of artificial environment is created where employees adopt the feeling:

If I’m not moving up; I must be moving down.

My friend and former colleague, Adam, had this affliction.  Truth be told, I’ve suffered from it myself.

Experienced; skilled; articulate; professional; I can’t say enough about Adam’s talents.  And I think I know the cause of his “moving down” affliction.  We were observing other, less talented colleagues at our company get promoted into front line sales manager roles.

We see it all the time, don’t we?  Those that can do; while those that can’t perfect the internal politic of wooing their boss to promote them.  I was so afflicted early in my career that when two of my best friends were promoted, I could not share the joy of their success.  Nope, in my mind I was “moving down”.  I needlessly quit a great job because of it.

So when Adam caught that bug, I knew the early warning signs.  I tried to offer a little “elderly wisdom” to no avail.  He was going to take a promotion into a bad job come hell or high water.  Which would it be you ask?  Hell or high water?  Well, if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck…

Sure enough, within 10 months of total emersion into his managerial assignment; facing  innumerable obstacles; receiving little support from his superiors; the man who promoted him to begin with called one day.  When needing to deliver bad news, managers often “tip their hand”, hoping to soften the blow I suspect.

Ten months into his role, the discussion was about returning to a front line sales rep role (aka a demotion).  That’s not exactly how his superior said it.  The conversation was less direct; more vague.  Adam called me to relate the exchange and ask for a little “elderly wisdom”.  “Were they really demoting me?”  he asked.  I suggested it might be a good move; a better fit for him.

A new area manager was flying in to meet with him the following week.  To me, all of the signs indicated he was being demoted.  I said to Adam, “If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck…”  I asked him to let me know how the meeting went.

Adam called me that following week – he left a voice mail, “It’s a duck”.

GAP

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