Suddenly in Charge: Managing Up, Managing Down, Succeeding All Around

by Roberta Matuson

2011, Nicholas Brealey Publishing, 240 pp

Note – the Kindle version of this book is on sale all this month for $1.99.

Suddenly in Charge is billed on the cover as “The New Manager’s All-in-One Guide to Shine from Day One,” and it does not disappoint. First-time author and consultant Roberta Matuson has written the bible for all those employees who get thrust into management positions without all the necessary preparation, and in some cases without much support from their superiors and organizations. In many cases these people have received little or no training or development to do the difficult job of leading others.

I served for over 25 years in the Canadian Army. Before I “got the keys to the car” as a young officer, I had to undergo a grueling yearlong course in leadership, decision-making, planning, and management. After that, during my first leadership opportunity as a 23-year-old platoon commander, I was surrounded by mentors and had the support of my team of NCOs.

Unfortunately, most organizations provide nowhere near the same level of training and support to first-time managers and subordinates. This book, though, goes a long way to providing detailed guidance and advice to new managers. Although the book is subtitled Managing Up, Managing Down, Succeeding All Around, it is really about the nitty-gritty of day-to-day leadership in the organizational trenches.

I was particularly impressed by the author’s organization of the book into two distinct sections. The first part of the book deals with the delicate art of “managing up.” In this section there are chapters on, among other things, adapting to your boss’s management style, navigating the storm-tossed seas of office politics, and dealing with a bad boss. Needless to say, these are topics that are not often covered in books about managing and leading. However, they are a reality in all organizations. With Matuson’s guidance, no new manager need be in the fog when it comes to these arcane matters. There is even detailed advice on asking for (and getting) a raise.

The second part of the book focuses on “managing down.” In other words, this is the fine art of leading one’s own subordinates. The reader will find a well rounded look at the various aspects of managing and leading a team, everything from making a good first impression on acceding to the exalted functions of manager/supervisor, to acquiring talent, conducting performance reviews, and that bane of every manager’s existence, firing.

My two favourite chapters are are the ones respectively on dealing with difficult employees and gaining the respect of subordinates. These two chapters are worth the price of the book, in my opinion. I once had a commanding officer in the Army who told us that the secret to leadership was to be respected, not loved. Matuson fearlessly addresses this issue. In the process, she also shows that the key to getting respect is giving it, though without caving in or doing the work of subordinates or trying to be their friend.

In conclusion, Roberta Matuson has written what I believe will prove to be the classic work on managing and leading for new managers. If you are a new manager, it’s a must-have. If you are appointing or leading or mentoring new managers, it’s also a must-have. And if you are veteran manager, there is also much here that you can use in your day-to-day management and leadership.

© 2012 Richard Martin. Reproduction and quotes permitted with full and proper attribution.

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