Get yourself into the leadership loop

If you want to become an office manager, get in with the movers and shakers, says Nick Jackson
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The Independent Online

It is a feeling we all know well. One day, you take a look at your boss and think, I could do that. Only better.

Whether the empire you have in your sights is managing check-outs in Tesco, or the board of directors and the whole caboodle, the principles are the same. No one became a hero brawling in local bars, and the first step on the road to becoming an Alexander or Hannibal in business is getting yourself a command. It is not enough just to be good at your job and bide your time. If you want to get into management you have to go out and grab it.

The first thing you need to do is change the way you see your business. It is all right, as you plough your own furrow, to give that your full attention, but in order to make the move in to management in the first place, you need a grasp of the bigger picture. "If you understand that you're building a cathedral rather than laying bricks you'll be more focused and engaged," says Lucy McGee, a UK director of global HR consultancy DDI. And don't be scared to try out new ideas. "Leaders who rise up the ranks take new ideas, learn about them, and apply them," she says. "You have to be constantly learning to be a leader."

As well as a new insight into your business, moving into management means taking another look at your place in it. McGee reckons you need to be pretty unsentimental, ditching old networks and building new ones. "Build a network of leaders," she says. To get the promotion you need to get in with the movers and shakers in your business, which means putting yourself over without treading on any toes. And once you get your promotion you have the difficult issue of how to tell old work friends what to do. "One of the thorniest issues is managing your peers," says McGee. "Painful as it may be, you've got to put your old networks behind you."

Once you have got there, how do you make it all work? Jonathan Jay, life coach and author of Sack Your Boss! warns of two major pitfalls. "Delegation isn't just giving away jobs you don't want to do," he says. Instead you should be sensitive to the strengths of the team and give them the work they do best. But not too sensitive. "You have to draw the line between you and them," he adds. "Avoid the 'have you got a minute' people. They will steal your time. You'll end up doing jobs for other people."

Getting the balance right between work-shy bossiness and overzealous facilitation is a matter of communication. "We all communicate in different ways," says Jay. While some people will want the big picture, others will not be able to get on with their work until they understand the details, how and why it all fits together. People also pick up information in different ways. "Don't assume everyone's like you," says Jay. "The more different ways you can communicate the better. Write it down, talk about it in a meeting, and demonstrate what you want done."

And once you've got the message across make sure people stick to it. "Avoid vagueness," says Jay. That means sticking to the agenda in meetings and setting precise goals and objectives for people to stick to. "People like to know where they stand," says Jay.

One person who has recently been going through the thrills and spills of moving in to management is Leo Pickford. Pickford, 25, was the first of his year of graduate uptake at the pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca to get a management position. Two years after joining the company from university he is a plant engineer in charge of a team of five technicians.

"The key thing is to get up to speed quickly," he says. "Realise who the decision makers are. You want to be in the loop and be seen to be knowledgeable. Do your homework, express opinions. Get out there and put yourself about."

In his new role Pickford says the most important thing has been getting to know each member of his team and what motivates them. "The approach you have to take very much depends on the individual you're dealing with," he says. So while some people will be happy with a "well done"others will have to know they are going to get a bonus to go the extra mile.

Has it all been worth the effort? Certainly. "I feel more a part of what's going on," says Pickford. "It's been challenging but it really gets me out of bed in the morning, so I must be enjoying it."