While this book has a pretty long title – It’s Okay to Be the Boss: The Step-By-Step Guide to Becoming the Manager Your Employees Need by Bruce Tulgan – my review can be summed up succinctly: this book is important.
I read this book at a critical juncture in my career – our department was growing to the size where we needed some organization and guidance. I was the defacto leader, but I didn’t really want to be… I wanted to others to leave me alone so I could focus on my own work. That said, I also wanted things to be done right, which required some involvement from myself as the person with the most experience professionally and the longest tenure at our workplace.
Over time I warmed up to the idea of taking more of a management role, and while browsing the management books at the local library I stumbled upon It’s Okay to Be the Boss. It jumped out because that’s exactly what I wanted to hear: it’s OK. Although the owner was comfortable with me taking a management role, I was still only comfortable with the idea, not the practice.
You see, in a traditionally flat organization with very little hierarchy other than everyone deferring to the owner of the company, it felt weird to insert myself in between and start telling people what to do and how to do it. I was used to leading indirectly – I’d say “I think we should do this”, and people would defer to my experience and/or like my idea, but I felt like they didn’t have to – I was still an equal, no more important, albeit the most vocal. I wasn’t infringing on what I thought was their right to make up their own mind.
Tulgan advocates the exact opposite – get in there and be a hands on manager. Perhaps his biggest insight into management is what he calls ‘the undermanagement epidemic.’ This comes in two forms (well, two excuses) – 1) I don’t want to stifle my skilled coworkers by telling them how to do their job, and 2) No one told me how to do it, they were all to busy, so I figured it out and they need to too.
Guilty as charged.
Bruce assures us that people want to – and need to – be lead. He emphasizes a hands on management style with lots of communication. While I was anxious about my first few meetings where I told people I was going to be taking a management role, much to my surprised everyone thought it was great news. They were happy I would be more involved in their projects and providing more feedback and guidance.
As someone whose been managed very little in his career, I had mistaken good management for micromanagement. Bruce set the record straight with that one. I now agree with him that it takes a lot of work to micromanage, and once you get the courage to speak up more at work you’ll agree.
The most comforting part is that none of them seemed to worry that I’d be handing off more of my work to them, either. Even the large amounts of easy + tedious work they agreed needed to be done. I had always kept this for myself because I felt bad handing it off, but on the other hand if I did it for years what’s so wrong with them taking a turn?
The undermanagement epidemic makes sense, too. I always wished someone would hold me more accountable, be more involved with what I was producing, and, as a recovering perfectionist, take the time to look critically enough to point out areas where my work needed improvement (we all have room to grow, right?).
In addition to explaining why it’s ok to be the boss, Tulgan follows up by focusing most of the book on how. The subtitle is, after all, ‘the step-by-step guide to becoming the manager your employees need.’
Consistently meet so you can address small problems before they can get to be a big deal, be very clear what people should be doing and how they should be doing it, and make accountability real are all tools that I’ve began to implement succesfully.
The more time I spend giving direction and creating process, the happier people are. And their work usually looks like my vision (though I’m learning communicating a vision is as much an art and a science). And, as Tulgan predicted, they never really mind when I tell them they need to heavily revise a part since it wasn’t what I was expecting. After all, we did take the time to hire people who want to do things right, rather than people who want to get told everything they do is right.
This review is getting a bit long, so I’ll get to the point. It’s Okay to Be the Boss is a must-read for anyone new to management. If you’re not already a strong, involved, hands-on leader then I believe this book is critical for you as well. You’re likely doing your employees a disservice by being hands off, and trust me – they’ll be grateful when you start telling them exactly how to do things and nitpicking the mistakes.