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Book Club - Suddenly in Charge

Updated: Mar 21, 2023

Each month, we read a book and hold a discussion night to talk about our takeaways from the book.

Yellow cover of the book Suddenly in Charge by Roberta Chinsky Matuson

Our book club read for the month of February was Suddenly in Charge by Roberta Chinsky Matuson. Her book is a straightforward and practical guide to becoming a new manager and handling the pitfalls of a new leadership role.

The physical version of this book has a unique little twist - half of the book is written about managing up and then you can flip it over and read the other half to learn about managing down.

As I mentioned above, this book is full of practical advice from Chinsky’s years in management and working as a consultant. I love that each chapter has a quick summary at the end so it’s easy to pick it up and refresh on a particular topic. It’s also easy to skim if you're a busy new manager trying to just get the highlights.

Here are our top three takeaways from the book:

1) Don’t Forget to Manage Up

Half of the book is dedicated to managing up, aka managing your boss. Yet this is something many managers, especially new managers, don’t consider. Your relationship with your boss (or bosses) is equally as important as your relationship with the team you’re managing.

You need to be able to work with your boss and within your organization or it won’t matter how well you manage your team. Understanding how your boss functions and what your measures for success look like will go a long way to making you a successful manager.

When you want or need something from the top, your good relationship with your boss will help you get it. As much as you might hate office politics, you have to play the game to some extent if you hope to rise in the organization.

Chinsky summarizes why managing up is so critical in the first chapter:

“Your success in the organization is completely dependent on how well you manage your relationship with your boss. Your boss has the codes to unlock doors that will remain closed if you fail to nurture this relationship. He is the only one who can advocate on your behalf for more resources. He can play a critical role in linking you with key people throughout the organization, and he can also ensure that you are assigned to projects that will provide you with continued growth. And of course he is the one who can advocate on your behalf to ensure you are rewarded appropriately for a job well done.”

2) Relationships Are Key

If there’s one overarching theme I noticed throughout the book, it’s that relationships are key on both sides of the management coin. No matter how talented you may be, you can’t do it alone.

We already discussed the importance of a relationship with your boss in the first takeaway, so let’s briefly talk about the relationships with your team. Getting to know your employees and understanding what makes them tick is crucial to help you retain good talent, solve problems without a huge fuss, and create an efficient team that reaches their goals and beyond.

And when it comes to the tricky parts of management like performance reviews or dealing with difficult employees, your good relationships will make it easier. For example, if you’re regularly checking in with your employee and they know where they excel and what needs improvement, performance reviews are just another check in. There shouldn’t be any surprises on either side and you’ll both feel more comfortable with the review.

However, there are boundaries to set when it comes to forming a relationship with your team. You need to maintain a professional distance when you’re in charge. It may mean friendships you once had have to change. And you certainly don’t need to take it upon yourself to solve your employee’s personal problems. Just be mindful of your position in the organization and watch your behavior accordingly.

3) Be Prepared To Do the Hard Stuff

While there are many perks of being in a management position, it also comes with additional difficulties and responsibilities. This book serves as a reminder that managers need to be prepared to do the hard stuff. Having difficult conversations, firing staff members, and standing up to your boss are all things that will likely happen in your tenure as a manager. Being prepared ahead of time will make the hard things go a little more smoothly.

It can be tempting to put off those unpleasant conversations or try to push the task onto someone else, but the longer you let a problem go, the bigger it becomes. Staying silent or avoiding the problem isn’t an option. If you aren’t willing to do the hard stuff, you probably aren’t ready for a management position.

If you are in charge and find yourself struggling with a certain aspect of the role, you can seek out a mentor or coach to help you. I won’t go into the details of the differences between mentoring and coaching in this post, but you can learn more about what a coach can provide in this blog post. Whichever you choose to work with, that person will be able to help you by providing their experience with the issue and give feedback on how you can improve.

Suddenly in Charge is an invaluable guide for anyone becoming a manager for the first time and a helpful reminder of best practices for those who are more experienced. I hope you will use the takeaways in this post to improve your own management skills or gain the confidence to go after that new role.

Join us via on Feb. 28th at 6:30 PM (CST) for our book club discussion about Suddenly in Charge. Register for free here:

If you can't make it to the discussion tonight, share your thoughts about the book in the comments below.

Next month, we'll be reading Pay Up: The Future of Women and Work (and Why It's Different Than You Think) by Reshma Saujani. Grab a copy (or download the e-book) and read along with us!

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