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Like parenting you cannot read your way into being a good managerPosted 6 months ago by Nick Boulton

Management is like being a parent. It's hugely rewarding, but you're deluded if you're looking for a daily pat on the back. 

Allow me to illustrate my plight.

I recently spent a weekend driving my cricket-obsessed son halfway around the country before spending my early evening chauffeuring him to some party and waiting until midnight to chauffeur him home again. When he slithered into the front seat after an enjoyable couple of sharpeners, he immediately fell asleep and snored the whole journey back. On arriving home, he dragged himself out of the car, left the door open, and disappeared upstairs to bed without a word. 

You can imagine my mood. 

The following morning - well, afternoon - I asked if he had a good evening and got an inaudible grunt in response. Oh, you better believe I lost it. I unleashed a tirade of vintage dad classics. "You don't know how lucky you are! In my day, blah blah blah!" 

He looked me straight in the eye and, without a single sign of remorse, said, "Chill out, chief. It's the weekend; you can take it easy now." 

The management journey isn't for the faint of heart. An effective leader who drives change and commands respect is the hardest set of skills to acquire. It's about more than just being "the best" at your job - there are too many stories about top people who become terrible managers. And it's not something you can learn in a book either. Those skills are honed in the crucible of experience. You've got to put up with a lot of bullshit to get there. 

There is a common misconception that if you work your butt off for years to make it to management, you can kick back, take it easy and let the minions take over while taking credit for their success and wag a knowing finger when they get it wrong. That's about as likely as a teenager's apology. You'll have to work harder than you ever did as an employee. It will require every ounce of energy and brain space you have. 

Beyond unparalleled effort, the best managers also support, facilitate, cajole, pull down barriers and create an environment of unrivalled excellence. They hold their teams - and themselves - to the highest standards; they effortlessly ebb and flow with a business' needs and react instinctively to changing markets. They don't make excuses; they make success. 

But you can't learn about this in a book. 

I've read enough books about management to last ten lifetimes. Unfortunately, none of them explained what it takes to be a top-class leader. Instead, it's the usual prattle about 'leading with context' or team motivation. I wish each management book would come with a warning like this: 

"If you were looking for a good management epiphany within these pages, you're better off closing this book and picking up a copy of Beano instead. But here are three hard truths about management: 

• If long hours, weekends too, sounds like it might mess with your mojo, stop reading

• If dealing with stroppy team members, arrogant or obnoxious owners and Directors doesn't sound like your idea of fun, stop reading

• If getting little credit for success but all the blame for failure might dampen your mood, stop reading." 

If that doesn't sound like parenting teenagers, I don't know what does. 

Like parenting, you can read as many books about management as you'd like, but that won't make you good at it. The best way to accelerate along that learning curve is by picking the brains of those who were once in your shoes. Managers should be the people hungriest to learn more, improve their skills, and absorb as much as they can. You can build up a war chest of skills and experiences you can draw on time and time again, whether it's managing a team member or a surly snoring teenager.