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The Last Word: Daughterly Advice

Imagine my delight when I found out over the holidays that my daughter was promoted into management. Like any good father, dear old Dad was more than happy to impart his years of experience from the managerial front lines.

January 20, 2012
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Doling out daily guidance is a big part of life as a parent.

If you're not giving them advice on positive life choices ("Hey! What are you thinking sticking that wire brush into the wall socket? You wanna get electrocuted?") or adding your perspective on the family tree ("Yes, your great-aunt and -uncle were circus performers on my side of the family; Mom's side? Let's wait until you get a little older to talk about them."), you likely are answering critical job-search questions as they seek gainful employment ("If the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills are on TV, is that their job or are they really housewives?").

Kids are full of questions, and you, the parent, are full of answers. Or at least you hope to be.

Imagine my delight when I found out over the holidays that my daughter was promoted into management. Like any good father, dear old Dad was more than happy to impart his years of experience from the managerial front lines.

As you know, managing people is no simple task. Whether it's a roomful of number-crunching CPAs, a floor filled with sullen, introverted video game programmers or a team of like-minded HR executives, there is no one-size-fits-all prescription to running a department.

I've had the good fortune of working alongside and managing some amazing journalists throughout my career—large and small staffs of exceptionally talented and dedicated writers, editors, photographers and artists. Yet, as conscientious as my colleagues were and are today, I have to break out the old cliché that running a newsroom is like herding cats. In that respect, my daughter's task isn't much different.

She'll be managing a crew of mostly her peers in their early 20s at a San Diego microbrewery. Learning early job skills is one thing, but teaching basic customer service at that age is another. Young people don't have the market cornered on self-absorption, but I'm sure that keeping her crew focused on the task at hand will be a big part of her job.

The promotion happened quickly, too. Initially she was supposed to take over in April. That was suddenly revised to mid-January.

While I'm a big believer in management training for newly minted leaders, in some ways a battlefield promotion can be a boon. Take the experiences you have, trust your instincts and jump into the deep end headfirst. Some sink; others swim. Sure I'm biased, but I have no doubt she'll pull a Michael Phelps.

I certainly was no Olympian early in my tenure as an editor. I made the mistake of wanting to be everyone's buddy. Pal around after work. Commiserate about the boss. Except—hello—I was their boss.

Come to find out that no matter how many rounds you buy, you are still the boss. Big ol' target on your back; it's also embossed like cheap stationery across your forehead: BOSS.

It is with this in mind that I considered how to counsel my daughter. Should I buy her a book on management? Would she understand Jack Welch? Is Peter Drucker over the top? What about the pretentious-looking book that recently came in the mail with the cliché picture of a carrot on the cover and the words "incent" and "motivate" in the title? It's pretty thin and is probably a quick read.

Then I started thinking about what it takes to be a good manager. What should I tell her? How about: Surround yourself with good people, make sure to document, document, document, and praise in public, reprimand in private?

Yeah, that's pretty basic. She'll get that.

Later that week we embarked on a long family road trip and I was mulling what to say, and wanted to sound like the voice of authority, not some snooty know-it-all management guru whose book has a carrot on the cover.

I launched into my spiel and I could tell she was paying attention. I noticed a quizzical look—my message was registering big time.

Eventually there was a pause, and a song or two passed, along with the rolling hills of Southern California. She looked at me and said, "Dad, what if I just treat everyone like I like to be treated as an employee?"

Score one for the new manager.

Rick Bell is the managing editor of Workforce Management. To comment email editors@workforce.com.

Workforce Management, January 2012, p. 34 -- Subscribe Now!

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