Industry newbie as a manager – Disaster in making?

One of the comments on the post ‘How fast can a career move in India?‘ went like this:

You have not expanded on why getting into a management role early in one’s career will be a disaster.
One of the reasons I can think of is that a newbie (comparatively) has not seen and experienced the varied kinds of environments and situations, from which an experienced manager learns and becomes successful.
Also, when regularly compared with his/her more experienced and often successful peers a feeling of inadequacy , low confidence can creep in. This I believe is the nail in the coffin.

The question raised is very important: why do I think management cadre very early in the career is a disaster? I assumed this but didn’t really elaborate on this in the post; hence this post.

To clarify, manager in this context means people manager, and not a strict project manager (though in case of many companies, these two roles are often played by the same person). I have written a lot about characteristics of a manager in previous posts, but some of the traits that are important for this discussion here:

  • Dealing with ambiguity and subjectivity 
  • Remain confident of your abilities
  • Inform, Involve and Inspire the team
  • Foster trust and transparency
  • One of the most important ability of a manager is to deal with ambiguities, uncertainties and subjectivity that is normal in the life of any manager. Company problems and issues are never solved 100% before a manager is exposed to them, no problem has only one unambiguous answer, and many aspects of the work of a manager is highly subjective. All of this is likely to cause issues for people who are new to the industry and are used to the certainties of workplace (“Code works or it doesn’t work”, “problem can be solved, or it can’t be solved”, etc), an IT (software, hardware) engineer has to be very unambiguous, certain and objective about his/her work. So this jump to management cadre, if done very early, can be discomforting and dizzying for young engineers.

    Other skills I mention (and the other numerous ones I didn’t) are slightly easier to master but they get complicated in the face of these uncertainties and ambiguities. For example, carrying your engineering confidence to management is tough because you are supposed to let others do their work (and hence lose the very skill that gives you confidence). Same with other skills.

    Spending some significant time in industry before being a manager helps somewhat because the person would have seen these ambiguities and subjectivities through his/her manager’s lense and learnt some. But that is not the real measure of when someone is ready. He/she is ready when the ability to deal with ambiguities has been developed and demonstrated. This is where your manager can help you groom to that level by exposing you to the right problems and challenges, and then helping you learn those tricks that make him/her successfully deal with them.

    Another question that gets raised naturally:  if what I say is correct, how companies get away with newbie managers? Here is what I posted in my response to the comment:

    I have seen newbies work in such cadre mostly in services companies, and as I described in a previous post on Cube Rules about career management in India, those companies need conformity more than creativity, and hence managers’ primarily role is to get the simple jobs done and act as extended hands for original manager (project managers) than anything else, and definitely not a people manager by any stretch of imagination. So it works, esp if the new person is technically better than the people he needs to ‘manage’ (going back to manufacturing analogy: a supervisor on an assembly line needs to be smarter than workers on the line to ensure he can literally supervise).

    What has been your experince watching/being such newbie managers?

    5 Replies to “Industry newbie as a manager – Disaster in making?”

    1. In technical line specifically talking about software industry I have experienced that people expect their manager to be visibly superior to them, someone who they can look-up to as and when they grow-up as role model. Which means somebody who can solve their problems (technical as well as personal), or at least give a sense that he is the best support around. In other words be a “Mentor” to the people.
      In summary manager should earn “Respect” from the team-mates to be able to successfully manage people (specifically smarter people).
      I guess this is where newbies have more problem when they try to earn respect or accetability within their team, which is a lesser problem (because lot of things come automatically) if you are more experienced and spent enough time on the job in the same industry already [Then there are more discrete reasons for people to autmatically give due respect to you]

    2. Thanks for your comments. I agree, respect from your team mates and reports are essential ingredients to being a good manager, esp in software industry. Also, at least in India, no of calendar year experience can be easily passed off as ‘seniority’ and that coupled with good technical knowledge can help someone gloss over other important aspects of management. Sheer technical acumen shouldn’t be such a big problem though because technical ability is mostly the only reason such a newbie is promoted as a manager so he/she should have that aspect well-covered.

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