Historically, and even today, people are often promoted to positions of responsibility for others thanks to their technical expertise. After years of high performance in a certain discipline, they are rewarded with a move into the ranks of management. It looks great on the surface; a new title, a nice pay raise and perhaps a larger workspace. But, often, the shininess of that new status dulls quickly when people realize that management is not quite as clear-cut as it appears.
Why is this? Whether their area of expertise is in engineering, accounting, medicine, technology, logistics, manufacturing, sales or some another discipline, practitioners know exactly what to do in most circumstances. There is a wrong way and a right way. There are SOPs, procedures, generally accepted standards and regulations that govern decision-making. In other words, things are black and white. Managing the work of people, though, requires an ability to use both the critical and compassionate sides of the mind. The ability to see the various gray areas and act accordingly allows for better decision-making.
Yes, a multitude of rules also govern how people should be treated and supervised, but a good manager knows that he or she must also take into account factors that don't appear "in the books." For example, even as we strive for equity and fairness in the workplace, we must consider what each individual needs. In a classroom conversation recently, the question of what type of employee recognition is best was raised. After much discussion, the group concluded that it all depends on the individual receiving the recognition. While some would relish lunch with the CEO, others would not see that as recognition. Some people prefer cash. Still others would be delighted with a handwritten note of thanks. Listening carefully and being a good people "reader" may be among the top management skills required today, along with the ability to think creatively and exercise courage. While the diploma on the manager's wall may read, Master of Science in Management, the better qualification may be "Master of Arts in Understanding, Listening to and Caring about People along with the Ability to Think beyond Convention." Perhaps the manager will need a larger wall for that diploma.