The First-Time Manager

The First-Time Manager

Authors: Loren B. Belker, Jim McCormick, Gary S. Topchik
Pub Date: January 2012
Print Edition: $17.95
Print ISBN: 9780814417836
Page Count: 240
Format: Paper or Softback
Edition: Sixth Edition
e-Book ISBN: 9780814417843

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Chapter 1

The Road to Management

There are many different ways that individuals become managers.

Unfortunately, many companies don’t go through a very thorough process

in choosing those who will be moved into a managerial position. Often

the judgment is based solely on how well the person is performing in his or

her current position. The best individual contributor doesn’t always make

the best manager, although many companies still make the choice on that

basis. The theory is that successful past performance is the best indicator

of future success. However, management skills are very different from the

skills one needs to succeed as an individual contributor.

So the fact that an employee is a good performer, even though he or she

demonstrates a pattern of success, doesn’t necessarily mean the person will

be a successful manager. Being a manager requires skills beyond those of

being an excellent technician. Managers need to focus on people, not just

tasks. They need to rely on others, not just be self-reliant. Managers are al-

so team-oriented and have a broad focus, whereas nonmanagers succeed

by having a narrow focus and being detail-oriented. In many ways, transi-

tioning from the role of an individual contributor to a manager is similar to the

difference between being a technician and being an artist. The manager is

an artist because management is often nuanced and subjective. It involves a

different mindset.

Management Is Not for Everyone

Some companies have management-training programs. These programs

vary from excellent to horrible. Too often, the program is given to people

who already have been in managerial positions for a number of years. Even

experienced managers periodically should be given refresher courses in

management style and techniques. If a training program has any merit,

however, it should be given to individuals who are being considered for

management positions. The training program will not only help them avoid

mistakes, it also gives trainees the opportunity to see whether they will be

comfortable leading others. A management training program that helps

potential managers decide that they are not suited for management has

done both the prospective managers and the organization they are a part of

a great favor.

Unfortunately, far too many organizations still use the ‘‘ sink or swim ’’

method of management training. All employees who move into supervisory

positions must figure it out on their own. This method assumes that everyone

intuitively knows how to manage. They don’t. Managing people is crucial

to the success of any organization; but in too many cases, it is left to

chance. Anyone who has worked for any length of time has observed situa-

tions where a promotion didn’t work out and the person asked for the old

job back. The well-known saying, ‘‘Be careful what you wish for, because

you just might get it’’ comes to mind. In many companies, the opportunities

for promotion are limited if you don’t go into management. As a result,

some people go into management who shouldn’t be there—and they

wouldn’t want to be in management if other opportunities existed for salary

increases and promotion.

A series of management seminars was conducted for one company that

used an enlightened approach to the problem of moving the wrong people

into management. Everyone under potential consideration for a first-line

management position was invited to attend an all-day seminar on what is

involved in the management of people. Included were some simple but typi-

cal management problems. When these candidates were invited to attend,

they were told by the company, ‘‘If after attending this seminar you decide

that the management of people is not something you want to do, just say

so. That decision will in no way affect other nonmanagement promotion

possibilities or future salary decisions in your current position.’’

Approximately five hundred people attended these seminars, and

approximately twenty percent decided they did not want to move into man-

agement. After getting a brief taste of management, approximately one hun-

dred people knew they would not make good managers, but they were still

valuable employees. Far too many people accept management promotions

because they feel (often rightly so) that they will be dead-ended if they re-

The Omnipotent One

Some people believe that if you want something done right, you’d better do

it yourself. People with this attitude rarely make good leaders or managers

because they have difficulty delegating responsibility. Everyone has seen

these people: They delegate only those trivial tasks that anyone could per-

form, and anything meaningful they keep for themselves. As a result, they

work evenings and weekends and take a briefcase home as well. There is

nothing wrong with working overtime. Most people occasionally must

devote some extra time to the job, but those who follow this pattern as a

way of life are poor managers. They have so little faith in their team mem-

bers that they trust them with only trivial tasks. What they are really saying

is that they don’t know how to properly train their people.

There is often a staff turnover problem in a team with this kind of manager.

The employees are usually more qualified than the ‘‘omnipotent one’’

believes and they soon tire of handling only trivia.

You probably know of an omnipotent one in your own organization. It

is a problem if you’re working for one, because you’ll have a difficult time

being promoted. Caught up in your impossible situation, you’re not given

anything important to do. As a result, you never get a chance to demonstrate

your abilities. Omnipotent ones seldom give out recommendations for promo-

tion. They are convinced that the reason they must do all the work is that

their staff doesn’t accept responsibility. They can never admit that it is

because they refuse to delegate. The trap of becoming an omnipotent one is

being emphasized because you don’t want to allow yourself to fall into this

mode of behavior.

One other unvarying trait of omnipotent ones is that they seldom take

their vacations all at once. They take only a couple days off at a time be-

cause they are certain the company can’t function longer than that without

them. Before going on vacation, they will leave specific instructions as to what

work is to be saved until their return. In some situations, they’ll leave a

phone number where they can be reached in an emergency. Of course, they

define what the emergency might be. The omnipotent one even complains

to family and friends, ‘‘I can’t even get away from the problems at work for

a few days without being bothered.’’ What omnipotent ones don’t say is that

this is exactly the way they want it because it makes them feel important. For

some omnipotent managers, their retirement years are demolished because

retirement means an end to their dedication to the job, their perceived indis-

pensability, and possibly their reason for living.

The Chosen Few

Sometimes, people are chosen to head a function because they’re related to

or have an ‘‘in’’ with the boss. Consider yourself fortunate if you do not

work for this type of company. Even if you are related to the boss, it’s very

difficult to assume additional responsibility under these circumstances. You

doubtless have the authority, but today’s businesses aren’t dictatorships and

people won’t perform well for you just because you’ve been anointed by

upper management. So, if you’re the boss’s son or daughter or friend, you

really need to prove yourself. You’ll get surface respect or positional respect,

but let’s face it—it’s what people really think of you, not what they say to

you, that matters—and that affects how they perform.

In the best organizations, you’re not chosen for a managerial position

because of your technical knowledge, but because someone has seen the

spark of leadership in you. That is the spark you must start developing.

Leadership is difficult to define. A leader is a person others look to for direc-

tion, someone whose judgment is respected because it is usually sound. As

you exercise your judgment and develop the capacity to make sound deci-

sions, it becomes a self-perpetuating characteristic. Your faith in your own

decision-making power is fortified. That feeds your self-confidence, and

with more self-confidence, you become less reluctant to make difficult deci-


Leaders are people who can see into the future and visualize the results

of their decision making. Leaders can also set aside matters of personality

and make decisions based on fact. This doesn’t mean you ignore the human

element—you never ignore it—but you always deal with the facts themselves,

not with people’s emotional perception of those facts.

People are chosen to be managers for a variety of reasons. If you’re chosen

for sound reasons, acceptance by your new staff will, for the most part,

be much easier to gain.

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