Four Things I've Learned Since Becoming Everyone's Boss

Image: HBO

Well this is awkward. I am about to write about what it’s like to manage people on a site run by one of the people I manage (“Hi Chris!”) This is going to be fine. This is all fine.

I want to state from the outset -- this wasn’t my idea. Chris Jager, Editor of Lifehacker Australia (and my direct report), asked me to write this article. Does he have ulterior motives? Is this an elaborate trap? Does he want to take me down from the inside and feast upon my bleeding corpse?

All possible scenarios. But I choose to believe his motives are noble.

My name is Mark Serrels. For almost six years I was the Editor of Kotaku Australia. I wrote about video games for a living. I had a lot of fun. In a lot of ways it was a dream job, but three months ago I was internally promoted to Managing Editor. I now look after Lifehacker, Gizmodo and Kotaku. Before I had one direct report, now I have seven. Big difference.

It was a job I wanted. It was a position I asked for and the change I needed from a professional standpoint, but it doesn’t mean there hasn’t been challenges. I’ve learned a few things in the last three months and if you’re someone with aspirations to move into a similar role within your own company, I think these are lessons worth learning.


#1 You’re Gonna Do The Thing You’re Good At Less

It’s one of the eternally weird things about the culture of ‘promotion’. Quite often employees will be promoted because they were successful in their previous role. They were really good at this one thing, therefore the powers-that-be saw fit to shoehorn them into a role where they no longer do the thing they were good at in the first place!

For me that ‘thing’ was writing. As Editor of Kotaku Australia I did a lot of writing. It was something I like to think I did well. As Managing Editor I now do a lot less writing. I had to make my peace with that – and I have – but it’s still a strange shift to embark upon.

It is now my job to help others do the thing I used to do.

That will seem counter-intuitive at first -- it will almost feel wrong -- but this is your new reality, and you’d be best served preparing for that.


#2 You’re Going To Feel Less Productive

This is another reality. In your previous role you did stuff. You made things, you sold things, you fixed things. You could go home, make small talk with your significant other and legitimately list things you achieved that day.

In your new role that list is going to start feeling a lot more abstract.

Because essentially your job is to make things run better. This is not a concrete thing. In my previous role it was ‘how many posts did I write today?’ ‘How was traffic?’

Now those metrics are a lot more difficult to measure. That might leave you feeling a little lost in the beginning.


#3 You’re Going To Take Work Home With You

A hangover from that fact: you are more likely to bring work home with you.

By that I don’t mean literal work. I mean you are more likely to think about work in your off time. You’ll be trying to get to sleep and all of a sudden start asking yourself questions. Am I doing the right things? Am I saying the right things? Am I asking myself the right questions?

And on that note…


#4 You Will Question Yourself

You are going to doubt yourself. Big time. You’re going to wonder if this was the right decision. You’re going to ask yourself if you can actually do this job. You’ll wonder if this was all just a huge, terrible mistake and can I just have my old job back please?

This is normal. Absolutely normal.

Three months in and those thoughts still manifest themselves, but the voices are quieter. It’s important to listen to them – and parse them – but they’ve gone from a horde of hysterically screaming banshees to a more reasonable, manageable low-level static.

You have to question yourself. If you don’t, you’re destined to fail. But I believe it’s your ability to distinguish what’s real from your own anxieties that will determine your success.

Or this could all just be a tremendous amount of bullshit.

Chris? Chris, are you still there? How am I doing so far?


Comments

    Mark,

    Great insights and a good job to have distilled them in such a relatively short time. I am sure that I wouldn't have been able to put it so succinctly.

    Aaah, so you're the "all parenting advice is bullshit". Got it. I really liked this article (the one above). You've distilled it. You could have also added "it's lonely".

    I really hope you have the courage to buck the trend that's crept into Life Hacker in the last few years. If you really want a long diatribe on equality (vs equal opportunity), let me know.

      I really hope you have the courage to buck the trend that's crept into Life Hacker in the last few years.

      Agree... although I suspect it's the boss of "everyone's boss" who is determining the quality...

    Mark, I took on an acting manager role a few years back, so went from one of the team to the boss. Wasnt going to be forever but still my job to do staff performance reviews, have words at time if people weren't pulling their weight etc. I found going from "work friend" to the one at the top a challenge. This going okay for you?

    You are going to subscribe to the Manager Tools podcast and buy the Effective Manager book (I just got mine from Book Depository).

    "In your new role that list is going to start feeling a lot more abstract."
    Definitely one of the harder things to adapt to. Shifting your metrics from "What I did today" to more of a glacial, "Are we better now than 3 months ago" view helps. Just have to keep reminding yourself to step back every so often so you can see the long view.

    #1 You’re Gonna Do The Thing You’re Good At Less - THIS! 100 times over THIS!!!. I found it (and still find it) hard to let go of those things that I know I can do faster or better than the people that report to me. But if I step in with more than just encouragement or direction then I'm not only stepping back into my old role - I'm doing them a disservice by not allowing them to grow.

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