Becoming a manager is a subversion of self-identity

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Let’s talk about the manager and his or her identity at work.

The act of becoming a manager is the very act of undermining the person’s identity at work.  Here’s why:

For years the employee who was not a manager has the following elements associated with the employee’s identity:

–What you do at work is produce something

–Work is rated by quality and quantity metrics

–Work can be compared against other people doing comparable work

–Work quality and quantity can be improved and new techniques learned by meeting with and learning from others who do comparable work

–Expertise is increased over time

–There is a trade name/professional identity associated with the job (mechanic, accountant, camera operator, software engineer, etc.)

With these fairly well-defined elements that contribute to the identity of the employee, the employee can develop a general understanding of who she is and what value she provides.  On top of that, she can see fairly easily how she performs in comparison to her peers, and she has peers to which she can compare and learn from.  Via this identity, the employee develops a sense of who she is and what she is capable of, and where she fits in the organization and the industry.

Then the moment she becomes a manager, all of this is lost.  It is taken away.  It is eliminated.  It is killed off.  The employee has lost her identity entirely.  Let me explain:

Element #1: The loss of productivity

The moment the employee becomes the manager, she is no longer expected to produce something.  Sure she is in charge of the people who produce something, but she herself does not produce anything any more.  In fact, the manager who attempts to keep producing something to keep this element of her identity becomes something of a ghost of an employee – someone who neither produces as much as the others nor manages the team very well.   That sense of productivity is gone.

Element #2: The abstraction of quality and quantity metrics

The employee who becomes a manager no longer can produce quality and quantity, but must indirectly produce quality and quantity from the other employees.  It used to be a direct creation of what is productive, but now it is an indirect, abstracted creation.  The manager has lost the direct sense of what productivity looks like, and now has only a trace of that sense of productivity.  It is an abstract concept rather than a concrete concept.  Any former claims of productivity, innovation, and quality are immediately vanquished and lost over time, and cannot be used as a measure of success in the new role.

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