First-class coach

I'm head of an IT department now and I'm not enjoying being a manager. I spend all my time sorting out people problems when I could be doing more important things.

by Miranda Kennett
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

I don't want to step down and lose pay and privileges, but I'm miserable.

A: Matthew Graham-Hyde is chief information officer for the United Business Media Group. Responsible for overall IT systems and support provided by more than 300 IT people, he spends much of his time establishing IT services in India, where he has a further 150 staff. He concedes that a lot of technical people find it difficult moving into a management role. 'They are used to dealing with inanimate objects and short-term problems. There's no instant gratification in management like there is in cutting code. If they're introverted, it's even harder.'

But he doesn't sympathise. 'Management is all about people. You've got to understand your organisation and then deliver what it needs. You can only do that if people want to work with you. That means lots of interface with them.'

The only exceptions are the very few who are great technicians and can become chief technical officers, architects of major systems, running big budgets. These rare individuals, he says, can be excused from day-to-day management responsibilities and need to be well rewarded for their talents. The rest, having reached the pinnacle of their technical specialism, have to accept people management as a major part of their future role, or decide to stay at that level.

Of course, other options are to leave or to remain miserable in your job - although, as a coach, I would never recommend that a client resign themselves to continuing unhappiness. I'd prefer you to explore the possibility of staying put and developing your skills so that you begin to perform well in the role and, as a result, start to relish your job rather than hate it. For this to happen, you need to make a shift in your mindset so that you start seeing your new role as a challenge rather than a problem.

Think back to when you learnt about computers and software. There was a lot to get to know, in both theory and practice, and it must have taken some time before you were technically competent. But my guess is that you undertook this learning willingly, as a means to an end - a job you wanted - and quite enjoyed the learning process on the way. If you can reframe your new management role in a similar way - initially requiring additional knowledge and skills to lead you to a more rewarding role - you may be able to get over the people-management hurdle.

Consider how you have been managed in the past. You'll probably recognise how good management made a difference to your job satisfaction and poor management had an adverse effect. This will help you see the management role as important to the success of those for whom you are accountable and thus worth the effort required to become proficient in managerial skills.

Make sure your organisation provides you with training. Even those who have a natural desire and ability to lead others benefit from understanding the means and methods of helping them to achieve high performance. Graham-Hyde had no management training for his first five years and feels he made mistakes during that time, but found his role much easier when he learned how to get the best out of people.

But don't assume you're an absolute beginner at this: in successfully providing an IT service to your internal customers, you'll have developed an understanding of them and their needs, and this awareness is the cornerstone of good management. It's unlikely you'd have been promoted if your bosses hadn't recognised in you an ability to become a respected practitioner.

Don't be disheartened at this early stage. I have worked with a number of clients who've been in a situation like yours, having come up through a specialist route such as finance or IT and found themselves promoted to managerial roles that weren't much to their liking at first. The transition took time, but without exception they all developed into well-rounded managers, with the bonus of a specialist knowledge they can bring to bear on the organisation's challenges.

If you succeed in mastering these new skills, you'll have made yourself a valuable asset.

Many companies know they must prepare for the uncertain digital future and are recruiting technologically savvy managers as a form of future-proofing.

Miranda Kennett is an independent coach.

If you have an issue you'd like her to cover, e-mail: miranda@firstclasscoach.co.uk.

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