The Highlands Company Blog

Should You Be a Manager?

A typical career path starts as a team member (whether as a sales associate, PR officer, or accountant) and then through a promotion you move from team leader to manager to a more senior role.

But is this position playing to your strengths?

Not all of us are suited to the manager role, but in the UK and USA, there is no preset professional career path, such as you find in Germany. That’s why we have brilliant sales associates who become mediocre managers and professionals (including psychologists!) who move out of their area of expertise into a role that doesn’t necessarily play to their strengths.

For some people, a move into management is a great job – they have the natural talent to manage others, and the ability to get the job done through others. This is often something to relish.

Although mentoring and coaching are a part of a manager’s role, these two bits are not the only functions that a manager performs. There is also monitoring, planning, organizing, and motivating others. A key aspect of management is to prompt other people to do something instead of doing it yourself. Unfortunately, this last bit can be difficult.

In the context of the Highlands Ability Battery and Driving Abilities, you can see clues that someone would make a good manager, or not. To illustrate this, let’s look at an example of one of my Silver Plus clients, Jo. See her Driving Ability Results below.

  • Classification – 5th percentile
  • Concept Organization – 75th percentile
  • Idea Productivity – 90th percentile
  • Spatial Relations Theory – 10th percentile
  • Spatial Relations Visualisation – 60th percentile

A Close Look at Jo’s Scores and What It Means For Her as a Manager

manager-style-womanJo’s score for Classification (also known as Inductive Reasoning or Diagnostic Thinking) is quite low, which means she likely prefers situations where she can make decisions based on prior knowledge and experience. Forcing her to do too much fire-fighting could be stressful for her.

This score also means she has to understand something fully rather than “wing it,” and this helps with managing other people. If she had a high score, she would be brilliant at making quick decisions and would solve problems immediately, but she would find it very frustrating to work with others and to wait for them to catch up with her. Not ideal in a manager.

The second score is for Concept Organization (also known as Deductive Reasoning or Analytical Thinking) for which she has scored at the 95th percentile. This reflects the fact she is a natural organizer who is great at setting up systems.

You might think this is a great ability for a manager – organizing tasks and getting things done, but while this is fine for your tasks, there is a tendency to want to organize others and to review critically the way other people organize things. It’s hard to sit back and not comment on how other people have done something, and for many it’s hard to resist the urge to suggest changes. Being logical – as people with high concept organization are – can also mean that you want to follow a process and not cut to the chase, and so this can slow down decision-making.

Idea Productivity, the third score, is measuring the quantity of ideas, not the quality. Almost always, if someone has a high number of ideas, only a reasonable number will be useful.

Like Jo, I score high in Idea Productivity, and I do think it can be a curse. I sometimes think I have too many ideas for my own good. When I dealt with a team of senior managers, they looked to me for suggestions and ideas, and it was hard to stop sharing ideas and to coach other people to develop their ideas. If I’m honest, it was frustrating for me. I’d spend hours getting to something I could have done in a few minutes. This was one reason I left to set up my company. As a manager, your team can also get frustrated with the stream of ideas you have. As you share ideas with your team, they may expect you to move them into action, but moving them from project to project as you develop new ideas can cause confusion on priorities.

With High Idea Productivity, you need to be in a role which challenges you to come up with new ideas, not a job which asks you to maintain a situation or deal with routine, however high-level the job may be. Effective managers score low on Idea Productivity.

Spatial Relations Theory (SRT) is about understanding theoretical and abstract relationships and is a required ability for science, math, and engineering. It can help with counselling and advising, and is helpful, also, for seeing the other persons point of view. This is beneficial in negotiation and in getting people to work together.

So, why does a high score in this ability get in the way of management? A low score means you are more interested in direct contact with people and in being more practical than theoretical, helping you to focus on the immediate task. A manager with high SRT will develop theories and leave the implementation to others, but not necessarily with sufficient guidance. A person with a lower score is more likely to manage the work himself.

Spatial Relations Visualisation (SRV) is related to hands-on work and being able to see things in 3D. A high score means that people are more comfortable with practical than abstract work — they would rather be working on science or research than working practically with people. A lower score means you are an abstract thinker who is comfortable in work that deals with words, ideas, concepts, principles, values, people, relationships, or information. This is all helpful in a management role in which you can understand and work with the feelings and ideas of your team.

I’ve explained these five scales in depth for a couple of reasons – to raise the notion that management is not necessarily going to make you happy.

I think I was a perfectly competent manager, but looking back, I wasn’t playing to my strengths, and when I went through the Highlands Ability Battery that all became clear. As we saw earlier, Jo has three high abilities and two lowish ones, and this doesn’t make being a manager the right next step for her.

I should know. I scored nearly the same!