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Management Immaterial

There are terrible fates that can befall a working person these days. You can be downsized, or outsourced, or simply upended, but the very worse fate is even more devastating. You can be promoted.

Oh, I know! No one in their right mind would watch you slouch through the day, making mistakes left, right and center, and say — “Hey, that lazy lunkhead is management material.” But who says that upper management in your company is in its right mind or even has a mind at all? And with older co-workers being culled from the work force, you could actually be the most competent incompetent person in your company.

It was this fear of a devastating promotion that probably prompted The New York Times to assign Career Couch columnist, Eilene Zimmerman, to investigate the question, “Are You Cut Out for Management?”

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As you might expect, a professor at Harvard Business School was first with an answer. “Becoming a manager requires a transformation of your professional identity,” says Professor Linda A. Hill. Fortunately, this shouldn’t be difficult for you. All you have to do is replace your current professional identity — the person who hogs the most donuts at Monday morning’s staff meeting — to a more suitable management identity — the person who hogs all the donuts at Monday morning’s staff meeting.

Hill also points out that as a manager, you will be “an instrument to get things done in the organization by working with and through others, rather than being the one doing the work.” This does present a challenge. How can you do less work when you do so little right now? You may actually have to work harder to look like you’re doing less, but I believe you are up to the challenge. If managers are judged by how little they accomplish, you are destined to be a superstar!

Some baby managers may not feel prepared for the awesome responsibilities that await them, which is why Rich Wellins, a senior vice president at Development Dimensions International, suggests you “connect with those who are still in the early stages of their careers, like you, and meet with them regularly.”

The advantages of meeting with other nascent managers are obvious. For example, you can negotiate for a group discount on the “Bacon & Brew” breakfast at the Kit Kat Klub. And as your fellow tyros confess their failures, you’ll know exactly what companies will be receptive to receiving your resume, strategically altered, of course, to demonstrate your mastery of the skills sadly missing in your new best friends.

Wellins also handles the interesting question of whether some people are simply not cut out for management. He describes natural leaders as “people who have a strong motivation to lead, to influence, to get things done for others.” Unfortunately, he doesn’t address people who have a strong motivation to goof off, to have zero influence, and to get things done for themselves while someone else is paying for their time.

Despite all the perks you get as a manager, some of the recently promoted soon realize that they not only dislike their boss, but they also don’t like being the boss. Before you hand in your keys to the executive bathroom, the executive sauna and the executive humidor, the experts suggest that you wait six months to a year before begging for your old, lowly job back. That will give you time to figure out exactly what you don’t like — the big salary, the leased Mercedes, the endless hours of free time to master Asteroids with no one supervising you.

“Tease out what specifically you dislike,” says Dawn Chandler, an assistant professor of management at California Polytechnic State University. “If it’s people, then you’re not cut out for management.”

To me, this is a very harsh conclusion, indeed. People are nasty, ungrateful creatures, especially the people who work for you. Think of the way you felt about your boss before you became the boss. Who could like a bunch of mangy discontents who spend their days ignoring your genius and hoping for your failures?

You’re the boss, bucky, and if no one likes you, and you like no one, you’re totally succeeding as a manager. And you should reward yourself with a nice long snooze in the executive nap room. Don’t worry. Just assign one of your minions to wake you up before the company goes belly up.

Bob Goldman has been an advertising executive at a Fortune 500 company in the San Francisco Bay Area. He offers a virtual shoulder to cry on at bob@funnybusiness.com.

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