I spent yesterday morning chasing down parts for a 1930s John Deere manure spreader and ordering seed for quail food plots. If, 10 years ago, a fortune-teller had predicted where I'd be and how I'd be spending my personal and professional life today, I would have been incredulous and demanded my money back.

Much of what we end up doing in life seems to be accidental. So when I came across a book titled The Accidental Manager, by Gary S. Topchik, the title intrigued me.

Managing Others

Most of us are accidental business owners, accidental leaders, and definitely accidental managers. We got into our fields of endeavor to do a job, not to manage and lead people.

So what exactly is a manager? Topchik defines managing as getting the work done through others by having them help you achieve the goals of the unit or organization.

He defines leading as getting people to willingly do their jobs by providing the right type of personal environment so that they want to succeed. He notes that management is "more reactive and more operational, happening day to day," while leadership is "more proactive and future-oriented." Organizations must have both to flourish.

While the book is directed at new managers being promoted (perhaps unwillingly) within a company, it has key messages for all of us. Companies need to recognize that many top employees don't want to manage others. These are the employees who reject the idea of being managers because they feel they'll have to make tough decisions and that the new management responsibilities that come with the job will simply add to the duties they already have. Not far-fetched, is it? However, if assured that a support and training system is in place, they'll be more likely to make the change.

Lots to Learn

Companies need to recognize that an employee being promoted will have a lot to learn as he or she moves into a managerial role. Topchik recommends that for the first few months, the promoted employee's responsibilities be confined strictly to management tasks. This is for two reasons. First, so that they get a clear idea of how important the job is. Second, so that they have the time to do it.

Topchik covers what he calls the four "Platinum" behaviors that transform an accidental manager into a successful manager.

  • The ability to develop staff, including the effective delegating and training that supports that development.
  • The ability to listen actively for meaning and understanding and to let the other person know they've been heard.
  • The ability to give and receive feedback.
  • The ability to create a motivational climate that encourages staff to motivate themselves.

Study Group

Any remodeler who feels challenged by managing people — and let's face it, who doesn't? — would benefit from the user-friendly information in this book. The author includes a self-administered 50-question assessment to get you started.

Why not be proactive and develop a management training group that uses the book as a text? You could assign one chapter a month, with a homework exercise. Follow up the assignment with a monthly meeting to discuss. That way, when you ask your top salesperson to consider becoming sales manager or consider your top lead carpenter for the new position of production manager, you both understand the challenge and the transitions.

Management usually is a learned skill. It can and should be taught. This book is a great resource in helping you to do just that.— Linda Case, CRA, is founder of Remodelers Advantage Inc. in Fulton, Md., a company providing business solutions through a network of experts and peers. (301) 490-5620; linda@remodelersadvantage.com; www.remodelersadvantage.com.