Friday, October 14, 2016

Misplaced Pride - and Getting Over It

"You wanted to be a manager so badly, that you'd probably be a good one.  Now you are."

Someone said this to me who had heard the same from someone else.  This comes from about three years ago, and was said in the context of my then current role (having moved from process and supervisory management to direct people management).  It bothered me.

I first got to be in management, some 20 years ago.  That was the first time I was given a supervisory role (one person!) and primary responsibility for a set of machines.  I had worked as a developer and IT systems administrator for a few years before I got that role.  I left that first professional job at the end of 1998.  I was super young, and I was family-in-law of the CTO, so I didn't really think the supervisory experience would count for much.

I got another job as a non-manager doing IT and customer support.  This was the first job where I didn't know anybody.  I was at that company for just over 6 years.  Within the first full year of working there, I was given an IT Manager title.  Why?  I advocated for myself, and pointed out that I was doing that job already.  I had learned to take responsibility of things, processes, the way a manager would.  The year I first got that "Manager" title was 2000.  By the time I left that company, I was the Director of IT (I think that happened in 2003 or 2004).  That company decided to outsource the IT department in preparation for selling out to another entity.  It was a pretty small company, and I never had any direct reports (I had people I could borrow for IT projects, but that was the extent of it).  So, as far as people go, it was also a supervisory role.  I didn't really think it would count for much.  But ... I wanted it to count.

This brings us to the company I work for now, March of 2006. I found myself a job doing computer programming, as a contractor.  I did that for six months, and then was hired full time by the same company as a development team lead in September of 2006 (which is another supervisory / management role).

Getting back to the point, someone - at some point during my early time at this company - took my early talk about past management as wanting to be one so badly.  As if I had zero experience.  Which may mean that someone might have thought they were taking a huge risk on putting me in a management role.  I was insulted by that three years ago.

I surely let that person know that my management role wasn't a fluke, and pointed out that I've started as a non-manager at three companies, and in all three reached some level of management.  It was almost like I was trying to get him to relay this to whomever he initially heard it from.  Ultimately, I was only bothered by it because they were right.  I had only been a people manager at that point for a little over a year.  I was only a few months past having to fire an entire development team (project cancelled).  My lack of experience bothered me, so it bothered me more that my lack of experience would also be something others would talk about with someone else.

I've been promoted several times in the 10 years since I've started working in my current company.  I'm not Director level again, but the manager title I have feels like it means more in the huge company I work for than it did in the relatively tiny company I worked for then.  People management has a lot to do with that.

When I started at the current company, I was partly ashamed that I used to be a Director, and now I'm only a programmer, then team lead, process manager, engagement manager.  I was even more ashamed that I had no experience with direct reports ... supervisory experience counts, but not as much as having to make hiring and firing decisions.

I've never stopped learning about being a manager.  Sometimes, I'm faking it until I figure it out.  That is, though, the part of management where owning the solution to a problem requires compromise, and no single answer is obvious.  These are the times I weigh the experiences and warnings of my team and stakeholders and make a decision.  Ultimately, the important part is that I am willing to be responsible for the decisions that I've made.  Now, I look back and realize that I've been doing that part for 20 years.  It's still the hardest part of the job.  It's no longer the most stressful part, but it is still the hardest part.

Well, maybe the hardest part is realizing that when others talk about me openly and honestly, I should probably listen instead of getting defensive.  Misplaced pride doesn't help anyone.

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