Becoming a great boss is really hard work. You have to deliver on your organization’s goals, impress your employers and engage your employees. Remember, you’re a leader only if people choose to follow you.
They rarely make that choice lightly. Colleagues all around watch you in action — how you respond to them, to others, to opportunities and challenges. Do well, and you earn respect.
But doing well is tricky business, because supervisors must successfully navigate the cold, hard facts of management.
Here are five tough realities that challenge every manager.
1. Managers disappoint people every day.
It can happen in countless small ways and a few massive ones. You correct peoples’ work, give assignments or promotions that many want but only a few get, enforce rules that some folks don’t appreciate, green light some ideas over others, pass judgment on conflicting viewpoints, and ask staffers to start earlier or stay later than they’d like. In worst case scenarios, you are cutting salaries and benefits, or executing layoffs or firings.
2. Managers push people out of their comfort zones.
In these changing times, you are asking people to learn new skills, collaborate across old boundaries, and deal with new technologies and revamped systems. You might be nudging folks toward personal growth, coaching introverts to be more outspoken or coaching extroverts to be better listeners. You’re likely asking people to increase productivity and still maintain quality.
3. Managers are routinely caught in the middle.
You face pressure from above to make goals and achieve results. Plus pressure from peers in the management ranks to step up, or step in or step back. Plus pressure from employees to carry their issues, ideas and ambitions to the powers-that-be. You translate messages from all sides to one another, and attempt to satisfy — or at least reconcile — the diverse demands you face wherever you turn.
4. Managers can’t always tell people everything they know.
People look to you for information, but you’re obligated to protect confidential staff matters or health issues. Even if employees are asking when you’re going to take action about a problem — and you already have (like putting people on performance plans) — you can’t broadcast the details, out of respect for the employees’ privacy rights. Nor can you automatically share sensitive business plans or competitive strategy in the making. You constantly balance your desire to keep people in the loop with your stewardship of proprietary or personnel information.
5. Managers make mistakes.
When you consider the number of decisions you make each day as a boss, it stands to reason that you’re going to stumble now and then. It might happen because you’re impatient, overly trusting, too cautious, underinformed or even biased in your judgment. When you make mistakes, for whatever reasons, how will you handle the fallout from your fallibility? Even great bosses aren’t perfect, but they know how to minimize and recover from mistakes.
These may be cold, hard realities, but let them enlighten, not frighten you about management. Great bosses learn to master the challenges. That’s the reason for these columns — and why I’ll offer one tip about each of the five realities in today’s podcast: “What Great Bosses Know about Management Challenges.” And I’ll share more strategies for succeeding in each area in my next column.
Poynter’s “What Great Bosses Know” podcast is sponsored by The City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. You can download a complete series of these podcasts free on iTunesU. Poynter’s leadership and management expert Jill Geisler shares practical information on leadership and management that’s valuable for bosses in newsrooms and all walks of life.