Becoming a manager – the first 18 months

The notes above referred to the unpleasant experience of my first months as a manager. Clearly, the way I was making sense of it at the time reflected the language in which I had been immersed over the previous two or three years. However, it still seems to me properly to represent the emotional nature of the experience I went through, and is not so esoteric a description as it may seem.

I recall one of my seniors later in my career talking about the same transition from practitioner to manager. She was by no means from a psycho-dynamic tradition but she was aware that her behaviour as a main grade officer towards her managers looked very different from her manager’s seat than it had felt at the time. She thought she had behaved in adolescent ways but had been oblivious to it at the time. This was her way of describing an awareness of unconscious drivers at work as she grappled with authority.

She had, she realised, not treated her managers as real people but as symbols of some sort of threatening establishment against which she was rebelling. In this dynamic, the manager is seen as powerful and threatening, invulnerable and potentially hostile. So like teenagers and their parents, staff can find themselves alternating between holding secrets with their peers, and attacking the manager for doing things wrong or threatening their sense of self worth. (This is the paranoid schizoid position to which I refer. It is a state in which the ‘other’ is felt to be hostile and so has to be defended against or attacked. It is also a state in which the ‘other’ is in imagination controlled by splitting it into separate parts. So it becomes impossible to see the other, in this case the manager, as a whole person. Their private existence is split off in imagination from their work persona.) It made insight into unconscious motives highly threatening – hence the venom. (I’ve referred to one example of this hostility earlier in discussing organisational emotions.)



Becoming Clear 1

An account of how I learned to be a helping professional – not an instruction manual, but a prompt for you to explore your own story .

D H Pennington on Hobbes:

Commentators on the whole agree in praising the logical and uncompromising clarity of his argument and go on to differ fundamentally about what he meant.


I sat down to write this after receiving a copy of a book about work in the probation service. It was written by three managers each of whom I have previously supervised. It is well written and from most points of view rather more practical and down to earth than the prelude with which I am presenting you. It tries to describe the world as it is, for a probation officer setting out on his or her career – to bring probation work into a clear framework.

In a sense therefore it is a good book, trying to give people information that they can understand and translate into what they do in their work. This is fundamentally a common sense approach that runs all through the work of helping agencies. Everyone looks for ‘clarity’  in the belief that once such clarity is provided, the way to act, the things that can then usefully be done, will then be obvious and possible to deliver. This ‘clarity’ is essentially an intellectual and word based phenomenon – to be found in ‘vision statements’, strategic policy documents and university text books.

I think at one stage in my career, I dismissed too lightly this kind of approach to learning about work with people in trouble. I was not alone – in my social work training, we endured some social psychology ‘lectures’ in which no clarity of this intellectual kind was provided – intentionally. It was all about discovery through experience, an approach that left the whole year group bewildered and completely unable to pass the exam paper at the end of the year.

Hopefully, what I have to say now has a better balance, and welcomes intellectual clarity where it can be unearthed. Nonetheless I am not satisfied with the ‘manual of explanation’ approach to learning about work with troubled people, despite the contribution that it undoubtedly makes.

The difficulty is that what helps people is not just ‘what you know’ but ‘what you are’, and I don’t think it is sentimental to believe that ‘what you are’ is if anything more important than what you know, when dealing with emotional distress, changing behaviour and tackling disorder.



Becoming useful

I’m going to write about how people in helping professions can learn to be useful to those they help. I want to see if it’s possible to do this by telling the story of  my own learning and development. I also want to find out if telling this story in blocks of 300 words or so can enable people to engage through this blog.

Clearly, a number of people who have experienced professional help, use blogging as part of their recovery, so there should be plenty of expertise around that can guide me if my own perspective is deluded! I hope there are also people who inhabit helping roles who might come across this and find it useful.

I like the word ‘useful’ for its modesty. When we set out on our careers our hopes for the future can be ambitious. It is probably a universal task as we grow older to reconcile youthful ambition with the disappointments of reality and to avoid jaded cynicism. ‘Being useful’ is to me then a noble aim.

Perhaps a bit of a map of what I shall be writing would be helpful. The material roughly follows my career from emerging as an individual, through student days and into my years as a practitioner in helping professions. My introductory sections deal with some of my underlying beliefs and their origins. They will elaborate themes to which I have already referred. Then I explore a range of ideas and experiences more or less as I came up against them whilst I was learning my craft. My experience gradually expanded from one to one work with people in difficulty, to family work and then as I moved toward management to issues about organisations. I know some of this will be quite academic and theoretical – I am no J.K.Rowling!