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What is it like to be a manager?

Many people have asked me what it is like to be a manager. As a CEO, I know a lot about being a manager, not just from my own experience but also through following many managers at different levels and learning how they experience being managers. I have had more than ten different management positions, leading thousands of people in a few of them, and I share what it is like to be a manager with you in this article, both the good and bad parts.

We will start with a quick summary answer, and then I will present you with eight advantages and disadvantages of being a manager. This should give you a good picture of what it is like to be a manager.

What is it like to be a manager?

Being a manager can be rewarding but challenging since you are accountable and responsible for other people and not just yourself. A manager must support, guide, and push others to perform, while also fulfilling administrative duties. Being a manager is great during success but straining in difficult times.

To give you a better sense of what it is like to be a manager, I describe some key advantages below. The idea is to show you examples of the good sides of being a manager. However, there are two sides to each coin, and being a manager is not only about glory, a higher salary, and status. You cannot understand what it is like to be in a management role unless you also factor in some of the difficult parts that lead to stress, work-life imbalance, and many other drawbacks.

Advantages and Disadvantages with being a manager

I have seen many of the advantages and disadvantages of being a manager over my twenty-year management career on three different continents. I have also observed managers reporting to me and the advantages and disadvantages of being a manager that they experience. Although my experience being a CEO was vastly different compared to my earlier and more junior management roles,  I share nine advantages and nine disadvantages of being a manager in this article. Reading about these aspects might be especially useful if you want to become a manager someday. It will help you understand what type of job role you aspire to reach.

9 Advantages of Being a Manager

Here are nine advantages that come with being a manager. Although some might regard them as problems, or unnecessary challenges, I have found these to be common advantages applicable to most management roles.

1.      Additional intellectual stimulation

Being a manager means overseeing, planning, understanding, and aligning other people and their tasks and activities. A management role is often more complex, thus more intellectually stimulating, than being an individual contributor within a team. (Transformational leadership builds on providing others with intellectual stimulation, consider learning and using that framework.)

2.      There is less routine work

Individual contributors often see more repetition and routine tasks than their managers. Although being a manager includes administrative and repetitive work, the variety over time is greater since you need to cover all the aspects of the entire team. I find being a manager keeps me on my toes since so many new situations emerge, either different tasks or the same tasks but involving different people, putting an additional twist to the situation.

3.      People look to you for guidance, help, and support

If you enjoy helping others, you are more likely to enjoy being a manager. It puts you in a situation where others bring their problems, concerns, and challenges to you. Essentially, you will assume the role of teacher, team member, coach, mentor, sounding board, guide, problem solver, and sometimes even therapist, to name a few of the hats a manager needs to wear. I personally consider this an advantage of being a manager, and so do most of the managers I have been working with over the years. Get an edge and grow closer with your team members through affiliative leadership.

4.      You often get a bigger salary

Being a manager means more responsibility, and that often means better rewards. Although some functions, such as sales, might mean a steady salary with less commission, which can actually result in a drop in salary, in the majority of situations, the manager makes more money than the people being managed.

5.      You have access to more information

If you enjoy understanding the big picture and how everything comes together, you will enjoy the additional access to information that managers have. Besides having more complete information concerning your own area, you will likely also receive more information from above in the hierarchy and gain a better understanding of how the larger organization is doing and performing. (Cascade as much information as possible to your team, it helps to build creativity and engagement as in democratic leadership.)

6.      You get to develop others

Imagine the joy of seeing others grow and knowing that you were one of the enablers in making that growth happen. It can be incredibly rewarding to coach, mentor, and advise others to grow since it profoundly affects that person. Personally, I find this to be one of the most rewarding impacts I can make as a manager. Consider applying some coaching leadership.

7.      You are more empowered

People who like to be empowered to affect their own situation, their tasks, and their performance are likely to enjoy being managers due to the additional authority and decision-making opportunities a management job brings. I thrive on empowerment and enjoy the responsibility it brings, but that is naturally not the case for everyone.

8.      Managers often get more credit

When things go well and the team succeeds, the manager will likely get more credit for the achievement, not always rightfully, by the way. Being a manager can be like a competition, but with higher stakes, since you are competing with the effort of an entire team that you lead, not just your own personal contributions. Managers often deserve credit, but not always. Good managers know how to share the credit and highlight the people who really made the difference.

9.      Status and Prestige

Depending on your personality, you might care more or less about this advantage. Some value this more than anything else, and some do not. It depends on how humble you are. Humility is an important leadership trait, by the way. Read more here: Trait Theory of Leadership.
Personally, I do not care so much about prestige, and I quickly get used to the status of a new job, thinking that it is not that big of a deal. I am still just me, right? Lots of other people assign me high status in my CEO role, though, after all, I affect their future, making me important to them.

9 Disadvantages of Being a Manager

These disadvantages are common for most managerial positions, although some people, including myself, thrive in some of these situations.

1.      The responsibility can be difficult to bear

You will only truly find out what it is like to be a manager when you find yourself in a difficult or even catastrophic situation and realize that you are the responsible person. Regardless of whether you caused the situation, it is your responsibility to handle it. Responsibility can be difficult to bear when someone in your team has been injured, burnt out, or need to be fired, for instance. If you and the team fail, there might be other repercussions, such as customers having to cease operations, your company risking bankruptcy, or huge costs for rectification. On those occasions, it is not that fun to be a manager, but you learn how to cope with it after a while, according to my experience. Also, responsibility tends to grow over time. The responsibility I have as a CEO came after responsibility for something smaller, which again built on earlier roles with even less responsibility. As you grow as a manager, so will the amounts, the number of people involved, and the complexity of the responsibility. Read Lonely at the top for tips on how to get an informal advisor in your team.

2.      Managers sometimes need to cover for the shortfalls of others

What would you do if your team’s output falls behind and you have to catch up rapidly for a few days? Likely, as the manager, you need to work extra hard to catch up since you cannot simply expect the rest of the team to handle an additional workload if you do not. This can mean a lot of extra work before deadlines, when employees are absent, or in many other situations. Since the manager is ultimately responsible, at the end of the day, the manager needs to step up to the plate more than the team members. This can also become true pacesetting leadership.

3.      Work-life balance can be negatively affected

Lots of phone calls off hours is a common perception of how it is like to be a manager. Although this can happen, every manager needs to shape their work in the best way possible to enable work-life balance also for the manager. The responsibility means the manager is the ultimate point of contact, ranging from a store manager getting a nightly call from the security company to a Vice President having to figure out how an employee stranded in another country can get home safely and quickly. If you are a manager, chances are that you are the one to call when things happen, regardless of the time of day. Personally, I enjoy this and cannot even imagine a job where I could be away for two weeks without someone needing to get a hold of me.

4.      Sometimes there is no good decision to make

Managers often have to deal with unprecedented situations and events. Your team would escalate abnormal situations since they lack the protocol to handle them, needing guidance, input, or decisions in order to proceed. The more senior the manager is, and the wider the span of control is, the more various and complex issues will be escalated. As a CEO, the most problematic situations in sales, manufacturing, legal, finance, etc., all came to me if the organization could not resolve them. You’re mistaken if you think there was an instruction manual for how to do my job as a CEO. The most difficult decisions can be when there are no good options. Instead, you are limited to options of different levels of bad. This builds experience but is not always pleasant, believe me.

5.      Being tough with your employees

Sometimes employees misbehave, underperform, or do other things that prompt some sort of reaction on the manager’s part. An autocratic leader has fewer problems with this, but managers with a strong sense of empathy can often struggle with being strict with employees, especially with the ones they know well. I have had to issue warning letters, salary reductions, fire people, and of course, put people on performance improvement plans and many other things. I have never enjoyed any of those situations, and few managers do. I found that being tough the right way makes it a lot easier, such as applying some coaching leadership.

6.      Taking risks

Being a manager is also about taking risks. Depending on your personality, taking risks could also qualify for the advantages listed above. When I refer to this as a disadvantage, I am talking about the risks that you really do not want to take, but a lack of action is even worse than a risky action. At the end of the day, the manager will be responsible, and there are times when it is way more comfortable if someone else decides for you, but as a manager, that often falls upon you.

7.      Less job security

We all know that being a manager often means less job security. Managers often have higher rewards due to the responsibility, but this is also a risk premium to a degree. Even in countries where job security is very strong from a legal standpoint, managers can find themselves exempt from the normal protection. In senior management positions, there are often clauses stating that you can be fired on the spot without any explanations. This situation would, of course, call for some sort of severance pay clause in the same contract. Regardless of the contract, managers run a bigger risk of being fired since more things can simply go wrong.

8.      Stress levels increase

I have explained many disadvantages of what it is like to be a manager at this point. Less job security, having to be tough with people occasionally, working harder, the burden of responsibility, disrupted work-life balance, etc., all lead to increased stress. All in all, when decisions, performance, and responsibility ends with you, you will be more exposed to stress. Managers can, of course, find ways to control or reduce their stress, but that can take time.

9.      A manager always sets an example

Last but not least, being a manager means others will watch you. They will judge you more than if you were a team member since the manager is the head of the team and therefore held to a higher standard. Furthermore, any mistakes are more likely to become the talk around the workplace. If someone sees their boss picking his nose, it is much more interesting to talk about than if a team member did it. If the boss comes in late, people will think: “If she is late, then why should we be on time?”. You get my point. A manager is observed, judged, and a topic for gossip. Hence, a manager cannot drop the guard and relax as much as the team members but needs to be constantly aware of how things are perceived and what signals the team picks up on.

What is it like to be a manager – Summary

Being a manager is two-sided. A management role gives you certain benefits and freedom but comes with heavy accountability, responsibility, and sometimes stress. That said, managerial roles differ a lot, and some are heavier on the responsibility side, lower on the status side, more or less job security, etc. I have tried to give a more general description of how it is to be a manager in this article. Some things I feel are rather common for multiple management roles I have had myself, as well as others that I have observed from the sidelines.

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