Book Review by Dan Coughlin

Suddenly in Charge: Managing up, Managing Down, Succeeding All Around

(Nicholas Brealey Publishing, 2011, 256 pages) by Roberta Matuson



Value for the reader:

If you have recently been promoted to a management position or become an entrepreneur taking over an existing organization, Suddenly in Charge will be of tremendous practical value to you.

Imagine that a good friend of yours is a mid-level manager whom you really respect. She has a few decades of experience inside a variety of organizations, she has dealt with the real-life challenges of managing her bosses and her employees, she has read the best books available on the topic of being a new manager, and she has reached out to senior-level executives in a wide range of great companies to hear their insights on managing up and down in organizations. Further imagine that she has organized all of her best ideas into an easy-to-read book filled with thought-provoking tips that any new manager can gain practical value from.

Now you can stop imagining because this is exactly what Roberta Chinsky Matuson has done with her new book, Suddenly in Charge.

Strengths of the Book:

The greatest strength of this book is the unique format that outlines the two critical issues for new managers: how to effectively manage your boss and how to effectively manage your employees. Whether you start with the section on managing up and then flip the book over to read the section on managing down or vice-versa, you will land at the same spot: you and your approach to managing. Roberta provides really good ideas, but in the end the main point is for you to decide on the actions you will take going forward.

The second greatest strength of this book is the variety of practical ideas on specific topics within the overall umbrella of managing up and down in an organization. You may not agree with every suggestion, but I’m confident you will be spurred to think differently about the situations you face on a regular basis and will land on specific actions to improve your performance as a manager.

Dan’s Dozen Favorite Ideas in Suddenly in Charge

To me, the value of a non-fiction business book is in the quality of the ideas that the reader can use right away. No matter how exciting the stories are or how impressive the research that has been done, the things I am looking for are ideas that can be used to improve performance and results in a sustainable way. Fortunately, this book is packed with these types of suggestions.

Here are my 12 favorite ideas from Suddenly in Charge:

  1. Chapter One in managing up provides real-world advice on how to effectively interact with four types of bosses: The Dictatorial Manager, The Laissez-Faire Manager, The Bureaucratic Boss, and The Consultative Leader. Roberta gives practical approaches to consider for each type of boss and suggestions on what not to do.
  2. Chapter Two provides in-depth suggestions on the real-world of office politics. Clearly, Roberta has dealt with these situations during her career and offers honest advice on how to deal with politics. This chapter alone is worth the price of the book.
  3. Chapter Three gives insights on dealing with a boss who is much younger than you. I really like her tip about not trying to communicate with your boss as though he or she were your child, but rather to interact with the person in a professional manner.
  4. Chapter Four deals with the truly difficult situation of having a bad boss. She makes a great point about the reason why some bosses are bad (probably had a bad boss themselves) and the importance of not blindly falling into the same traps that they fell into.
  5. Chapter Five offers advice about how to brag about your achievements and attracting worthwhile attention while simultaneously not turning off your co-workers and employees. This is a very tricky balancing act and Roberta expertly guides the reader through potential actions for their consideration.
  6. Building on the theme of attracting attention, Chapter Six gives both examples and suggestions on how to ask for a raise. There are clearly good times and bad times to ask for a raise, and Roberta explains the difference in a very pragmatic manner.
  7. Chapter Seven talks about the importance of preserving your integrity as you interact with your boss. She makes the point very clear that it simply is not worth it to lose your integrity in order to stay in your boss’s good graces.
  8. In literally flipping the book over, Roberta offers insights on how to manage your employees. Chapter Two focuses on understanding the uniqueness of each employee and meeting his or her needs. As Roberta says, “It’s no longer about me. It’s about we.”
  9. Chapter Three hones in on the critical importance of finding real talent for the organization, and not just hiring individual skills.
  10. Chapter Four moves from management responsibilities such as hiring and retaining good employees to the leadership responsibilities of influencing employees to improve performance.
  11. Chapter Five looks at the enormously valuable topic of generational needs and the differences between employees born into different generations. This chapter takes on a very big topic in a very useful, real-world manner.
  12. The remaining three chapters give useful insights on the HR responsibilities that a manager faces including dealing with difficult employees, firing employees, and improving business performance and results. In many ways, this is where the rubber meets the road in terms of being an effective manager in the organization or an effective entrepreneur.

This is not a playbook that you have to follow step by step. Instead it is a very useful book of tips from a person who has been there and done that. I encourage you to consider Roberta’s advice carefully. In addition to these 12 items, another benefit of the book includes the quotes from a wide variety of senior executives related to that chapter’s topic.

What would have made this book better?

One thought that came to my mind as I read this book is that it would have benefitted from a slightly tighter focus. In the end, Roberta addresses 16 topics related to managing up and down in an organization. I did like the variety of comprehensiveness of the topics. Perhaps if she had focused on 12 topics, she could have provided even greater and more in-depth advice on each of the topics. She does provide some very useful follow-up tools and ideas at www.yourhrexperts.com.