A plug for managers of the future

I have a remarkable memory, for some things. Once I share experiences with people, I remember everything about them: what they said and what they wore on particular occasions, the names of their spouses and kids and their friends, stories they told me from their pasts.

Just because I have this memory doesn’t mean that I entirely trust my own memories. I know myself well enough to get that I filter memories based on feelings I’m having about thorny topics challenging me in the present. Like: I’m facing the prospect of an empty nest once my son goes to college this fall (although that term feels a little bit insulting to my husband and dog, both of whom I love dearly), so I’ve been obsessively wondering if I should move back to the East Coast to be closer to my many good friends who live there.  And so, as a result, memories of living on the East Coast are flooding my brain, but with an applied filter of what I call Golden Nostalgia. The Golden Nostalgia filter selectively edits out all of the things I found to be super-challenging or just plain annoying about life on the East Coast and is presenting me only with the things I miss about living there. Like, autumn and pumpkin festivals and apple cider donuts, or the feeling of making soup on a snowy winter day. And on the flip side, I am conveniently not focusing on what it was like to have everything static-shock you in the freezing-cold winter, how dirty and disgusting snow looks the day after it falls, mosquitoes, humidity, the dearth of Asian grocery stores, and so on.

I’m hip to my brain filters (which is not the same thing as being able to control them), and so sometimes I work extra-hard to apply a counter-filter of objectivity, where I try and weigh different perspectives on a question. And I’ve found myself doing that, lately, on the question of management positions and how rewarding they are for the people who get them. I’ve already written about what hard work management is, in another blog post, and for the past two years as a mostly-freelancer, I’ve been feeling, like eh, it’s so much nicer to not shoulder that level of responsibility and stress. But I’m also confronting what I think might a core belief of mine, which is that it’s really wrong to skew totally negative on the topic of management jobs, first and foremost because we absolutely need to encourage more women, and especially women of color, to become managers and leaders! I feel so strongly about that, about encouraging more people from underrepresented groups to take on the challenge of these positions, I feel obligated to represent the positive aspects of management. Which are:

  • The reward and satisfaction that comes when you’re, you know, good at something. For a number of reasons, I spent an inordinate amount of time in my twenties shooting pool. And boy, was it fun—because I got reasonably good at it. Similarly, in the three or four senior management positions I’ve had, there were some aspects of the job I felt I did particularly well, like: Mentoring and staff development, particularly young women. Advocating for my teams. Creating space for learning and fun. Communicating with my team members, so they didn’t get annoyingly lost in the dark about important organizational developments or policies.
  • Representation! It is a beautiful feeling when you are not just adding to an organization’s diversity profile by your mere existence, but you are also doing a good job in an elevated position, one that is visible to the whole organization, AND you are actively engaged in helping the organization do better on diversity, inclusion, and equity. Let me be frank: the opportunity to feel good about representation and diversity, equity, and inclusion is not always obvious at the lower levels. When you are a junior-miss-nobody, you definitely feel more like a number, less like a meaningful example for others, and I can remember moments when I swatted away any mention of my race or my gender, just for the sake of continuing my quiet, keep-my-head-down climb up the ladder. But there is a certain level of security that comes with having attained a senior management position and if there ever is a time to raise your voice on diversity, equity, and inclusion concerns, THIS IS IT.
  • The power to get to solutions and corrections that make a HUGE difference in your colleagues’ work lives. Look, I am indisputably the type of person who sees that there’s a problem, and who then needs to solve it. This makes me a bit of a busybody, but it also makes me very useful to have in a management position, because I Get. Stuff. Done. If people are being driven by a bad process or an inhumane policy, then it is really good to argue for change from a position of authority and influence.

Look, I’m not going to lie: management jobs are somewhat challenging for creative types to take on because so much of your work life gets taken up by meetings (seemingly endless meetings) about stuff like budget, HR policies, compliance, etc. These are really important matters, for sure, but not the most scintillating topics to wrestle with for hours and hours. But at the same time, management is, fundamentally, about furthering your organization’s mission at the highest levels of authority and responsibility –and it is about making it possible for everyone else in your organization to do that, too. Research shows that helping other people thrive makes us really happy, and a huge part of management is exactly about that. So for every single person who reads this and wonders if management is worth it (aside from the higher salaries and retirement benefits), take it from me: it totally is.*

*as long as you’re not some dead-eyed sociopath who is in it solely for the money or the power you have over other people. But if you are, you probably lack the self-awareness to know that.