the hardest parts of being the boss

Before you throw your hat in the ring for a management job, make sure you’ve thought through what it really means to be a manager. Here are 10 of the toughest parts about being the boss… and if you’re not ready to take on each of these downsides, management jobs aren’t for you.

1. You’ll have to make decisions people don’t like. Whether it’s ending a favorite program, not hiring an employee’s friend, or scheduling people to work over a holiday, you’ll have to make decisions that may not be popular with your team.

2. You’ll need to tell people they’re not performing well. Sometimes these will be people you like and who are trying hard. Either way, it’s going to be a hard conversation that rarely gets easier, and you won’t be able to shy away from it because addressing problems head-on is a key part of a manager’s job.

3. You’ll need to fire or lay off people. Can you picture yourself telling someone that today will be her last day of work? If not, think twice before becoming a manager.

4. You’ll need to tell people no. You’re going to the person who has to say no sometimes – to a request for a raise, or for vacation time, or for a promotion, or a plea for a new computer. (Of course, you also get to say yes too, which is one of the upsides.)

5. When things go wrong, you’ll be the person blamed. When things go right, you’ll give your team the credit. But when they go wrong, you’re the one who shoulders the blame. Even if the problem was due to an employee’s mistake, you’re ultimately the person accountable.

6. Your decisions are high stakes. If you hire the wrong person, release the wrong product, or make the wrong budget trade-offs, your decisions could cause the company’s ruin. Even an offhanded comment could bring a lawsuit. Every decision you make, even the smallest ones, could have unforeseen price tags.

7. You may have to enforce rules you don’t agree with. Disagree with the top boss’s policy on promotions? Well, mention that to your employees and you’ve just undermined your own boss. If your company has a policy you don’t agree with, it’s still going to be your job to enforce it.

8. Friendships with lots of people in your office will be off-limits. As the boss, you need to have professional boundaries between you and the people you manage. You can’t have the same types of office friendships that you might have had before you became a manager.

9. You’ll be scrutinized. Everything the boss says or does carries more weight. If you express particular enthusiasm for one person’s idea, people will assume that’s the idea they should back. If you’re out sick on the day everyone else is doing inventory, people will talk about it for weeks. And if you’re in a grumpy mood, people will spend days wondering what they did wrong and parsing their relationship with you.

10. Some people won’t like you. If you’re a good manager, you’re going to make decisions that anger and upset some people. You are going to tell some people their work isn’t good enough. You are going to hold accountable people who may not want to be held accountable. You are going to institute and enforce policies that may exist for a good reason but still irritate the heck out of some people. You are going to fire people. You’ll need to make peace with the fact that there will be people complaining about that horrible person they worked for, and that horrible person will be you. So if you’re deeply invested in trying to be liked by everyone, don’t go into management.

I originally published this at U.S. News & World Report.

{ 21 comments… read them below }

      1. Jamie*

        Which is why if I could give every single new manager one word of advice it would be “learn meeting control.”

        Only call meetings when necessary. Yes, sometimes they are necessary…but not when they are called as a substitute for email.

        Start on time, end on time (or early.) Develop a reputation for allowing meetings to run over and you lose your audience before they show up.

        Stay on topic. Agendas are your friends. If others try to derail with unrelated, albeit, important topics table it to another time and stay on task. The derailers will hate you, because they have nothing better to do than sit in meetings. It makes them look busy. But you’ll be a hero in the eyes of your co-workers who actually, you know…work.

        Don’t read to people from your powerpoint. Everyone can read. And if they can’t you should be having a meeting about literacy in the office. In fact unless you have graphs or charts with relevant data leave the power point in the laptop. Text is not reason enough to create a slide. Anything you can type you can say verbally.

        Start on time, whether everyone is there or not. When latecomers shuffle in pause briefly without comment and keep going. Unless the latecomers sign your checks, then do a quick recap, and continue.

        I weep for the number of productive hours lost because people can’t maintain meeting control.

        I have 6 hours + worth of meetings scheduled for tomorrow – so this topic really hits home right now.

  1. Anon*

    All of the above are the reasons I don’t want to be a manager. I don’t like meetings, I deal with office politics only because I have to, and I prefer dealing with drama as little as possible. All good reasons not to take on a supervisory role, if you ask me.

    1. Anonymous*

      I don’t have a supervisory position, and office politics hounded me at my last job ( I chose not to participate, but it affected getting my job done since superiors were locked into battle).

      1. Anon*

        Oh, I have to deal with it a certain amount – but not as much as I would if I were in management. But yes, it is awful when you’re the rope in a political tug-of-war between your superiors, and there’s nothing you can do about it. Sometimes I just want to tell people to grow up and act like the adults the calendar says they are – which is probably another good reason that I shouldn’t be a manager.

      2. Malissa*

        I know how you feel. Office politics can be bad, but it’s worse when you combine them with actual politics. That’s the special circle of hell that all of your friendly government workers have to deal with.

    2. Christine*

      Ditto….this article just confirms that I am far from manager material. Not only do I not have a desire to do any of those things, I am not cut out for it emotionally. Give me a project that entails writing, research, and interacting with a good team, I’m happy as a clam. Ask me to supervise that team, I’m running for the hills. lol.

  2. Sandrine*

    Those reasons actually make me want to be a manager even more. Mostly because the French system is not the same, but at work I never try to be “liked” by everyone, just respected. I don’t care what people think of me as long as we can work together.

    I see some of my bosses in my new job as a perfect example of that. The one in charge of my team for example. She’s a new boss but has been in the company for years and is even friendly with the guy who trained us for five weeks. I was able to kiss her on the cheeks on Sunday and wish her a Happy Birthday (she is THAT nice) , but I know that she could kick my butt at any given time if it was needed.

    She is likeable, yes, but what makes me respect her and most bosses is the fact that no matter what she tells me, I KNOW she respects me. She respects my intelligence and knows that what she gives, I’ll give too. I will get to work on time, respect break times, respect the policies, be courteous to customers (even the bad ones) and I know that in return, if she has anything to say to me she will not hesitate, BUT it will be direct without being disgustingly blunt.

    In short, as long as one is not a jerk, I would wish you employees like me… I can be quite goofy at times, but darn it, work is work :P .

    1. Cassie*

      Ditto – those reasons made me want to be a manager! Most of the managers/supervisors that I’ve dealt with shy away from actually managing. Yet they complain about how difficult it is to manage people.

      I used to be in ballet and as anyone in ballet/dance can tell you, you call ’em as you see ’em. There’s no sugar-coating. You have to decide who gets what roles, you have to replace people if they are not working out, and you have to enforce the company’s rules whether you agree with them or not. Actually, the whole list could probably apply to my former position as ballet master (I didn’t get to make the top casting decisions but did have some say in minor casting choices).

      In my office job, though, I see people so used to the status quo that even if there were specific areas that could be easily addressed, nobody wants to do anything. It’s a sad state of affairs…

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Yes! The whole reason I got into managing in the first place was because of frustration with seeing managers not do their jobs, because it was hard or unpleasant. For people who can handle the downsides, it’s very satisfying to actually do the job right.

        1. fposte*

          That might be an interesting thing to write about–what are the good things about being a manager and what do good managers enjoy about the role?

          I came to management unexpectedly and was surprised by how much I enjoyed it, but I do acknowledge that my position is delightfully atypical–the small staff and their general wonderfulness makes it about as easy as managing can get :-).

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Oooh, good idea. For me, the things I’ve really loved about it are:
            – having the authority to make things function the way they should (dealing with problems head-on and getting them resolved, etc.)
            – getting stuff done — putting processes in place that boost the organization’s ability to make things happen
            – ensuring that other managers under me are managing their own staff well
            – being able to say, “no, that BS thing that I just found about is NOT going to be happening” (unfair treatment of someone, poor project planning, or whatever it is)
            – ensuring that people are treated well in contexts where they’re used to not being treated well (sending rejection notices to job applicants, for instance, and then getting thank-you’s simply for bothering to respond to them)
            – and then on a purely emotional basis, giving raises, promotions, and job offers feels awesome.

          2. Jamie*

            That would be interesting topic – the good part of managing. A lot of people want to “get into management” because of either the money or just driven to “get promoted” as a cultural goal. Then there are those like Alison who want to make a difference. There’s also a significant percentage of those of us who fell into it backwards with no real plan at all.

            I do wonder how many people in management would opt out if there weren’t financial and career repercussions for doing so. I’m not saying bad managers – you can be good at something and not love it. In fact, from what I can tell it’s the worst managers that love it the most (Michael Scott excepted, of course).

            I’ll admit it – if I could keep the autonomy and it didn’t come with a pay-cut I’d consider different options.

            To be honest, in a way I feel like I added more value before I was in management. Sometimes I feel like most of my time is spent managing projects and deadlines and other people’s input (thankfully not actual direct reports) that I feel I have very little time for the other parts of my job. Sadly, those other parts are the parts that I love. What drew me to the field and what I was good at initially.

            Just seems ironic that being good at something means you get promoted to where you have less time to do it.

            It’s not a choice you can make without judgment from others, though. I would imagine there are a lot of questions around someone who diverges from the traditional path of up and out so you can move up somewhere else.

            1. Christine*

              This is the fear I have – I feel like because I have a Masters degree, that I should be able to take on supervisory/managerial responsibilities. I have no desire for this whatsoever, and I do not want to get into a situation where I feel like I have to accept a such a promotion. MAYBE down the road after several years with an organization, but that’s a huge maybe.

              As I hinted at in my post yesterday, I’d be much happier contributing my individual skills and knowledge to the overall mission of an organization, rather than having to steer the ship myself.

              1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                A good manager would be thrilled to hear you say, “I know myself, and I know I don’t want to manage people. I would very happy to continue doing __.”

              2. Anonymous*

                The major issue is this: does saying such a thing terminate your rise up the salary scale? In a good organization, it won’t (until you’re getting to C-level), but that’s not going to be the case everywhere.

              3. Ask a Manager* Post author

                Yes, it often will. That’s not necessarily unfair though; management jobs pay more because in many ways they’re much more challenging (see the original post!). But it’s legitimate to decide that you’re willing to make that trade-off in order to be happy with your work.

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