On Becoming a Manager

Linda Hill’s Becoming a Manager: Mastery of a New Identity came out a decade ago.

This summer she published a new edition, Becoming a Manager: How New Managers Master the Challenges of Leadership. There’s an excerpt on HBS Working Knowledge.

Linda Hill suggests that one of the people a manager study is herself:

Those early in their careers can glean important self-insight through careful and systematic introspection. In particular, they should look for pervasive themes in their past and current experiences that say something about their key strengths, important limitations, and core values. For example, in trying to decide whether or not to move into a leadership role, people should ask themselves the following questions about what kind of work they find most interesting and fulfilling:

  • Do I like collaborative work?
  • Do I tend to become the leader of groups in which I find myself?
  • Have I ever volunteered to coach or tutor others?
  • Do I find it intriguing to work on thorny, ambiguous problems?
  • Do I cope well with stress (e.g., extended hours, tough personal decisions)?

    If they cannot answer most of these questions in the affirmative, it may suggest that they have neither the personal qualities, character, nor motivation required to be an effective manager.

    Along (sort of) similar lines, Johanna Rothman builds on Alan Weiss’ notion of identifying your fundamental value.

    So I want to put these two pieces together.

    If you’re considering a management job, or want to learn move about how you as a manager, try shifting Johanna’s process a bit to look at the basic questions Linda Hill poses:

    Start with your most recent experience first.

    Write down the answers to these questions:

  • How did I collaborate with others to accomplish work? What was that like for me?
  • In what ways did I show leadership in the groups I worked with?
  • How did I handle thorny, ambiguous problems? How was that experience for me?
  • What events or experiences were stressful for me? How did I cope with the stress?

    Loop on all the experiences on your resume.

    Now look back at all your answers.

    What stands out for you?

    What is surprising? Disappointing? Exciting?

    What does this tell you about your journey in (or into) management?

    What are your next steps?