The Truth About Managing Managers

Posted on September 11, 2013.

If you’re a front line supervisor or managing individual producers, you may look at your boss and think, “She’s always so stressed, glad I don’t have her job”.  Wrong! Moving from working in the weeds to managing people like you is like the feeling stay at home moms have when their kids start school. Both are well kept secrets.

I remember when I first started managing managers. I was use to people regularly calling or popping in with questions, some crisis, or just wanting validation.  The first thing I noticed was that my phone traffic dropped by about 80%. Since my office was co-located with only one of my managers, no one dropped in either. I thought, “ Why didn’t I do this years ago?” No one tells you what a great job it is.  It’s kind of like the way Iceland wants everyone to think their country is cold and desolate.  Top level managers have to keep this great secret or everyone would want the job and let’s face it, there aren’t that many available.

I’m not saying that higher-level positions don’t come with their own set of challenges and stresses.  My business travel increased exponentially and you have to be ten times more organized to keep track of multiple budgets. But believe me when I say, it’s a cakewalk compared to managing individuals.  All that said, there are some things you have to do to make sure you can take full advantage of this role.

·      Attract and retain the best talent. Whether you’re hiring managers or individual producers, hire the best and your job becomes 10 times easier. I was fortunate to have a strong team of great managers and leaders.  They were both liked and respected by the people that worked for them.  I rarely had to follow up or feel like I had to step in and do their job. It’s the biggest reason that moving up this one level made my job so much easier.

·      Let your managers do their job. Similar to the challenge many first time managers face, it’s hard to let go and let people do things their way. This old habit has a tendency to creep up again when your new team is leading in a completely different way.  You have to let it play out and see how effective they can be.  If you aren’t lucky enough to inherit a great team, you still have to let them do their job. If you don’t, you’ll never be able to coach them to a higher level of performance or move them out of the organization.  Always stepping in creates confusion and will prolong any performance issues you may have.

·      Find out what they need from you and deliver it. You’ll notice that based on different styles of management, people need different things from you. Some want nothing from you but support when needed. Others want you to visit often just to check in and make sure you know what's going on. Most everyone wants you to buffer them from all the “stuff” that’s not important.  Follow their lead and when not needed, try to stay out of their way.

One thing is certain, when you take the leap to managing managers, you are the one that has to change.  It’s an entirely different mind set and if you try to stay in the weeds or do their job, you risk hurting morale and losing great talent. If you don’t think you can adjust your mindset, then stay where you are. That’s a pretty good job too.