I was talking to a friend this week, and he was telling me about a struggle he was having with his manager. From the stories I was hearing, it seemed that this manager was a nice enough person. Unfortunately, it also sounded like this individual just wasn’t cut out to be a manager. It reminded me of one of the greatest classes I ever attended in my corporate life. Not surprisingly, it was taught by Xerox, and it was a class for aspiring managers.
At that time in my career, I was an aspiring manager. How did I know? Well, at the risk of sounding arrogant, I was good at what I was doing, and it just seemed like the natural next step in my career. After all, when you master something better than those around you, aren’t you then supposed to become a manager?
So, at my manager’s request, although I didn’t know it at the time, I took part in the most meaningful class I ever attended. We learned about hiring practices, performance reviews, delegation, recognition, corrective actions procedures, and the list went on and on. It was interesting, but it became truly invaluable when we began to look at case studies.
In smaller groups, we were asked to comment on various challenging situations that managers might find themselves in. In subtle ways, the program began to pit the manager against the corporation. For instance…
Your closest friend within the corporation comes to you in tears. Through bad judgment and unclear thinking, this friend confides in you that he/she did something that constituted an ethics violation within the company. If the corporation were to find out, your friend would almost certainly lose his/her job. This would then set off almost catastrophic events that would directly affect this person’s savings, home, marriage, and family. Do you report this violation?
It amazed me how easily some of my classmates around me were able to answer these questions. “Absolutely!” remarked many, as I struggled with each response. I suppose, at some level, I knew that the answer should represent the interests of the corporation, but I found myself wanting to represent the individual. The sample case study above left me wanting to stand by my friend.
When the class was over, I left in a daze, unsure of what exactly I learned. I sat with my manager, and I told him that I didn’t think it was a very good program, and I also shared with him my crisis of conscience.
He then asked me, “What did you think you were going to get out of this training program I sent you to?”
I responded by telling him, “I thought I was going to a class to learn how to become a manager.”
He smiled and said, “The class you were attending was not designed to teach you how to become a manager; it was designed to teach you if you wanted to become a manager.”
That was the moment I realized that, despite the track the corporation had placed me on, I did not want to become a manager. I also realized that, although I was not cut out to be a manager, it had no reflection on my desire to be successful. Attending this program and learning the lessons that it provided had given me given an incredible gift.
There are many bad managers out there, and they have been detrimental to the lives and careers of countless people who have worked under them. It’s because programs, like the one I attended, are few and far between. I doubt that this particular program even exists anymore within Xerox or anywhere else. The lesson that I learned from Xerox reshaped my life, and I couldn’t have gained that experience through the reading of a book or listening to a speech. I had to take that class and live through it.
Not everyone is cut out to be a manager. We seem to believe that if someone can put together a widget faster than anyone else, he or she is clearly management material. This just isn’t fair to the individual who has management thrust upon them, and it isn’t fair to those people who work for these misguided managers.
It can be a lifelong blessing to learn that you don’t want to become a manager. It is a lesson we are never taught. We need to learn, and remember, that moving into a management position is not a right of passage based on seniority or success. A move into management should be based on a true desire to manage others, with an unwavering dedication to the organization you represent.