Why should anyone want to be led by you?
It happens to every good marketeer sooner or later, the push or pull into management. After all, if you are the company’s best product or brand manager, it can only benefit everybody to have you oversee the activities of the other people who manage products and brands. They can learn from your experience and knowledge and you will know how to keep them in line because you understand their work too well to be hoodwinked. Sound familiar?
But do you know The Peter Principle?
Back in the 1969, Laurence J, Peter, a Canadian education expert, published one of the most sobering books on management most of us have never read. (The updated 1994 edition is still in print, if you’re feeling brave.) Peter discovered that, all too often in business, people are promoted based on their competency in the position they currently hold, not based on their potential competency in the position they are being promoted into. So as long as they remain competent, they will be promoted. As soon as they hit a position so fundamentally different that they don’t excel at it anymore, they no longer get promoted and they stick there forever, being paid more but achieving less than ever before. As a friend of mine put it, “shit floats”.
So when we move from managing products to managing people, are marketeers more or less likely than people with other backgrounds to prove the Peter Principle? I believe we have far more transferable skills than people from most other disciplines, should we choose to take the step.
1) Marketeers understand teamwork
Any company big enough to require a marketing manager to lead a team works on the principle of teamwork. Whether you hand over responsibility for your brand’s social media presence to the social media marketeer or trust the technical expertise of the packaging engineer to get the physical aspects of product presentation just right, we are constantly delegating and working as a team. The skill of giving clear direction and then allowing the expert in the field to do the work with touch points but without micromanagement is something most career managers take years of trial and annoyed team members to learn.
2) Your team is your brand
When we step into our first management role, we have one big advantage over managers with other backgrounds: we know brands. A team flourishes when it’s understood, nurtured, placed in situations where its strengths can show, shine and make a difference – just like a brand. A team and the individuals within it are constantly changing and growing and require changing types of management to bring out their best, in just the same way as brands need different management approaches through their brand life cycle to deliver their full potential. And finally, a good brand manger knows that true success comes from their brand’s name, not their own, being known. Translate that to your team and you’re not just a manager, you’re a leader people want to follow.
3) We understand creativity
Okay, we’re far from unique in this, but it really is an asset. Not in the “you understand their job too well to be hoodwinked” sense, but in the sense of knowing that two creative solutions can be completely different in approach and execution and both can still achieve excellent results. The biggest mistake any first time manager makes is to try to make their team do things the way they did them because they know it works. Your creative solution in the hands of a different person is a blunt object. Their creative solution, regularly shared with you to ensure they don’t lose sight of the timelines and key deliverables, is a key to passionate and inspired work.
SO. You can, but should you?
I have been really fortunate to have lived my marketing career in two successful multinational companies who understand that not all technical experts should be forced into people management. It’s the reason I never talk about stepping “up” into management. It’s a step sideways into a whole new career path, but there is nothing inherently worthier about being a people manager than about being a product, brand or category manager, and unless you enjoy developing people and handing over the brands you love into someone else’s hands, you’re probably never going to enjoy your management career as much as you enjoyed your marketing career. If you don’t really want to manage people but it’s the only way up in your company, change companies. Trust me. But if you want to make the change, don’t hesitate. You can learn management techniques to make you technically competent, but you already have the skills to make you great.
Marianne de Vries