Though it hasn’t been relevant for a couple of decades, the old notion of “paying your dues,” is alive and well.

There are probably two reasons it’s still with us. First, it’s a way of making young workers stop complaining about the unrewarding, difficult crap they have to do.

Tired of fetching coffee for the boss? It’s OK, you’re just paying your dues. Wish you didn’t have to write those pointless reports nobody reads? No worries…dues. Want someone else to clean the bathrooms? Sorry, they’ve already paid their dues.

The other reason is that it’s easier to hope rewards will come with time than to realize they’ll only come with effort.

It would be awesome if there were a magical process by which you suffer for a while, then are rewarded with easier work, more pay and a promotion.

But in most industries, meritocracy has long replaced seniority as the path to advancement. Most companies have a way of measuring performance and a plan for rewarding it. And just about everyone agrees it’s better to reward merit than patience.

And it is, up to a point.

As long as the reward is more money, a better title or nicer perks, this system works great. But as soon as the reward is a promotion to management, the process breaks down badly most of the time.

Because a promotion to management is really a career change, or should be. As a new manager, most of the things you did to earn your promotion aren’t relevant anymore. You did your old job well, but you’re in brand new territory now. You need to figure out how to be good at this job. And neither your education nor your company are likely to be much help.

You Are On Your Own

For all the important things they do teach, colleges and business schools don’t teach much about how to manage people. And though most companies provide management training, it’s focused on keeping the company out of legal trouble, not on helping managers motivate their teams and manage their bosses.

And that’s why it’s more important to pay attention than to pay your dues. Pay attention to the way you are managed, good and bad. Take note when your boss says or does something that makes you feel great and motivates you to do more good work.

And especially take note when you your boss blurts out something that makes you feel like saying, “Screw this place.”

These are the best ways to start learning how to be a manager before you become one.

Good managers want their employees to be successful. They don’t just set expectations, they give employees the support they need to exceed expectations. They know how to have difficult conversations and how to promote their teams. And they realize that the greatest measure of success as a manager is the success of the team.

But great managers are self-taught. And if you want to be a manager someday, pay attention, because your education has already begun.


To learn more about how to be a successful manager, read Don’t Be a Dick Manager: The Down & Dirty Guide to Management. It’s the management training you never got, available on Kindle and in paperback from The audiobook is available from AmazonAudible and iTunes.

Do you think you might be a dick manager? Take the quiz!