The Obligations of a Manager

I just watched Up in the Air – it’s a movie starring George Clooney as a “career transition counselor” hired by downsizing companies to tell their employees that they are fired. He does it in a firm, thoughtful, and sensitive way, and he is very good at his job.

Up in the air movie poster

The movie is really good and touches on a number of interesting themes: intimate relationships, jobs & personal identity, re-evaluating life choices. However, the thing that struck me the most was the whole concept of a “firin

g consultant”.

Career Transition Counseling is a real thing (note the terrible 1990’s website) and apparently many companies exist to help other companies downsize. The practice is almost inevitable in our capitalist society as whenever there is a need that can be profitably served, there will emerge people willing to do it.

However, I believe that CTC is a cop out. Managers should personally hire and fire. That is their job. When you become the manager of other people, you are accepting a load of responsibilities and obligations to your company and your employees that you did not when you were “just” an individual contributor. I think all managers need to read, understand and agree to at least a basic list of statements like this:

As a manager I …

  1. Will only make decisions that I think will make the company more valuable.
  2. Will only hire people that I think will make significant positive contributions to the company
  3. Will always give clear and useful feedback whenever possible to help improve my employees performance.
  4. Will always seek to provide flexibility, organizational resources & fair compensation for my employees to do their best.
  5. Will tell employees to their face when I need to let them go, for whatever reason.

As a manager, you are responsible for your team and responsible to your company and its shareholders. People from the top and the bottom are counting on you and you have to deliver. If your division screws up, everyone pays for it, including you and your team, but also others and their teams. If you do well, everyone looks good – you, your team and your peers.

I’ve hired many people. It’s a fun job. I’ve let go of people, and it is definitely not a fun job. But you’ve got to do it. Own up to your duties, don’t pass them to others.

Potential managers must understand, passionately believe and agree to those obligations. If you don’t like giving negative feedback or firing people, and are unwilling to tough it out and do it yourself, don’t become a manager. We all know the world could use much fewer spineless bosses wandering around corporate America.

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Jason Shen

Jason is a tech entrepreneur and talent expert. He is CEO of a performance hiring platform called Headlight, a Fast Company contributor, and an advocate for Asian American men. Follow him on Twitter at @jasonshen and subscribe to his private newsletter.

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