What business school doesn’t prepare you for when you get that management job

Dimitri Raftopoulos

How many of you have imagined how good it would be to be a manager leading others? Once you got the title, new office, better salary that your team would simply be there, willing to take direction and succeed in project after project that you lead. You would feel great and work-life would be a breeze.

The reality is somewhat different though and experienced managers and CEOs would be well aware of this. Getting the promotion to management is just the beginning. As soon as the honeymoon period is over, the real fun starts.

Let’s start with the forces at play that you can’t see, such as projection. As a manager, you will be the main target for all your team’s projection – what they expect from you and what you deliver. They will all have an opinion of you and they will rate you as to how capable you are as a manager.

A newbie manager could really struggle with this, as on one level, all her/his team will appear friendly on the surface. This is what I call the ‘mask’. We all have one and it can come in handy at work. What is going on behind the team masks is a whole other story. I would say it’s the real story and if you don’t have the skills required to decipher what is going on, you are in for one hell of a ride!

The first step is to become aware of the mask and what could possibly be hidden behind it. As a new manager, senior manager or CEO, take the time to really get to know the people you will be working closely with. As a manager get to know your team and become an observer of their behaviour.

Ask yourself the question why did he/she do/say that instead of something else. I’m not saying you will develop the very necessary people-reading skills right away, but this is a very good start.

Also, be curious about your own reactions and responses to members of your team. Ask yourself why do I respond in a different way to different members of my team. The forces behind the mask will attempt to get you and your team to become trapped in various dynamics which stifle creativity and productivity.

A lot of the time when a company requests coaching for a manager it’s because they are completely unaware of what’s happening behind the mask. The reason for this is that negative intentions can be pushed into a manager by team members who use their masks very well, manipulating people and situations. Sometimes it can be a team collusion and the manager or team leader is left feeling out in the cold. This is why continually developing your own self-awareness and knowing your mask is a top priority for any manager, especially in senior management.

Being self-aware, as a manager or leader, means knowing what triggers a possible negative response in you by your team. This is the extent to which you need to know yourself if you want to be a great leader.

Dimitri Raftopoulos is a psychotherapist and coach with Human Equity.


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