What’s An Emerging Manager?

under original management againMedicine has interns and residents.  The law has clerks.  The fire service has “probies.”

In tech, we have the notion of a “junior programmer.”

In management, there’s no understood role for a “junior manager.”

This is important.

Once, corporations and the military cranked out America’s managers.

These were not good old days.  There was no golden age of management.

However, there was a notion of “readiness” to manage at a particular level.

Like today, pedigree mattered.  Readiness was assessed by experienced managers, mostly white men.  I don’t imagine that readiness was consistent across industries.   It didn’t need to be:  more people spent their entire career in one industry.

Readiness contained a lot of stuff.  Including actual readiness.   (There’s baby in that bathwater.)

In 2014, I spent some attention considering how we develop managers today, in the absence of structures that used to serve this purpose.

And I started to talk with people about The Emerging Manager.

The Emerging Manager is an individual who has been managing people for somewhere between several weeks and several years.

She might be a developer leading a team for the first time.   Or, he might be a startup CEO or founder.  An emerging manager might lead 2 people, or 60.   She might be 23, and barely out of school; or 45, with a track record as a subject matter expert.

So being an emerging manager isn’t about career experience, or time in the job — though learning to manage people is a 10,000 hour endeavor.  It’s not about the size of the team.

“Emerging” happens in the first hundreds and thousands of hours of learning to manage people.  The work is to develop fluency in a set of basic management skills.

  • Setting, communicating goals; delegating work; giving people feedback
  • Interviewing/hiring with consistent results; advocating for your team/people; managing conflict
  • Addressing performance issues to a satisfactory conclusion; developing other managers; managing extreme change

In a way, these groupings are skill levels.   (It’s a little more complicated, too complicated for today’s post.)

Any emerging manager who wants to plug away at this for long enough will develop a solid proficiency — under the right conditions.

Some of the right conditions:

  • Setting an intentional path through the learning process
  • Finding mentors and coaches
  • Working in an environment with some structure and process around the work of management
  • And…the emerging manager has to want to develop this expertise.

“Subject matter expertise” is not included in any of these groups.   Not because it’s not important.   But because it’s not an emerging management skill.

I’ll come back to this here.   And also next week in a talk at BrooklynJS, where I’ll be presenting some thoughts on programmers as Emerging Managers.   Sign up to join us!

Update:  here’s a link to the slides for my BrooklynJS talk.   Thanks for the warm welcome, BrooklynJS.   And special thanks to the person in the crowd who whooped when I mentioned that my dad had been a programmer at Univac in 1960.   Dad loved hearing this!

Photo: Adapted from Somethings new change by Stephen Dann, via Flickr, under Creative Commons license.

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