The middle management class is enthralled with itself. No other rung of people on the spectrum of professionalism feel as proud and accomplished as the middle management demographic. A manager, however, is an easily replaceable and typically only moderately important position. There has become a strange prestige in being a manager that is attached to neither personal passion nor financial gain. Managers are, on average, abundantly clear about the stress level of their jobs and most are poorly compensated given their average tenure of experience and relative educational levels. So absurd this paradigm has become, that universities are now educating people specifically to become managers, as if being a manager garners any sort of financial gain or intrinsic value usually inherent in the tenets of education. This development runs in opposition to the traditional reasons people attend college, which is usually to follow their bliss or find a calling that benefits them handsomely in their wallets. Being a manager is not congruent to either quality of life or wealth, and yet strikingly so many people truly seem to want to earn managerial positions.
The saddest part in all this is that young people sincerely aspire to become managers. The culture of work relative to education has become so delusional that there are literally entire university programs orbiting the eventual dead-end careers of Human Resources Administration and Hospitality Management, among others.
If you take a step back and think about college, the typical attitude of a young person enrolled in a university takes on one of two mindsets: major in something you love or major in something that yields the largest potential future income. However, these management programs, as hugely popular as they are, don’t seem to meet either criteria. It is tough to believe that young people dream of being managers and truly hold this idea as a passion worth pursuing in college. Additionally, it is remarkable to think that anyone believes managers are handsomely compensated and are using this path as a route to wealth. The desire of young people to become part of the management sector is a paradox because it seemingly has nothing to do with passion or financial success.
Instead of pursuing an actual childhood dream – something like art, dance, or a particular sport – kids shift their focus into these management programs because they’ve been benignly steered away from creative enterprises based on the presumptuous phrase “you’ll never make a living doing that.” Perhaps this is when capitalism is at its most malicious – when it quietly coerces the next wave of young people into believing that management is a fun, exciting, and lucrative career path. In fact nothing can be further from the truth.
Yet somehow, the existing managerial class propagate this mentality through a cultural fascination with bragging about their inane and trivial employment status, using it as a benchmark by which they can silently compete with their colleagues, former coworkers, and friends. The entire concept of LinkedIn is built on this presupposition.
The secret that no one wants to tell these kids who aspire to become managers is that they’ll never be free from the title of manager no matter how high they advance. You’ll always have a boss and a subordinate. Each job you advance to, although distinctly different in some regard, will be eerily similar to each job you’ve held prior. You will take directions from above and pass them down. You will answer for the failures of your subordinates and have your own boss take the credit for any of your success. It’s predictably cyclical at every interval from an entry level salaried supervisor all the way up to the highest levels of a company.
Tragically, most people have also been successfully convinced that being an effective manager requires any education whatsoever. It doesn’t. Being a manager is rooted far more concretely in professional experience than it is in education. There is no intellect in management. There’s no need for it. So long as you can operate a myriad of computer programs, string together a semi-coherent typed sentence, perform the most basic forms of mathematics, and read, you can be a manager. The irony in this is that although university education has taken a turn towards offering a wider range of ‘management-centric’ degree paths, the businesses themselves are looking for experience, not education. In fact, the uneducated yet experienced manager is far more respected, capable, and effective than the freshly minted college grad with a business admin degree.
Very commonly these young kids straight out of college, brimming with positivity and college-certified management skills are quickly crushed beneath the more experienced managerial class around them. Believing that their education laid the foundation for excellent managing, they rapidly learn that the workplace the universities train for is not the workplace of the real world. They get discouraged quickly and quite often, quit.
Optimistic college grads routinely flounder when hired directly into management roles. The reason for this is because a given management culture of any business doesn’t operate on the principles of innovative collaboration in the common good of the company. It operates in a cyclically political nature of blame and cover-ups based on the needs of individual self-preservation. Advancement is less about ability and more about simply surviving longer than the guy sitting next to you. Negotiating the political space in any managerial job is as important, if not more so, than doing the actual work itself. College training does not account for this. In fact, being an immature high school-ish gossip constantly tangled in a web of your own lies prepares you far better for the professional sphere of management than any micro economics course ever will.
Because of this climate, often times the best managers are the ones who worked their way up from hourly positions. They are uneducated in the formal sense but they possess an astute knowledge of the business from the ground up and this gives them sufficient leverage to buy more time in learning how to be a manager. While their skills in turning a blank spreadsheet into a comprehensive pivot table may be nonexistent, their ability to acquire this knowledge is available and only limited by their own desire to learn.
By comparison, the college grad who can expertly rework a particular field of data into a functional spreadsheet is only doing so in the context of the spreadsheet, not in the context of the business and certainly not in the context of the interoffice politics of the business. By this logic, a student proficient in excel could do this work in any capacity if given the information. The difference between these two people is that the student has far less recourse for learning the basic functions of the business than the uneducated manager does in learning the basic functions of excel. Because “education” comes with an expected level of hubris, many educated “new” managers do not believe that learning the most basic functions of the business matters anyway.
Part 1: Be Your Own Manager