Feeling Incompetent About Some Aspect of Your Job? Ask Madeleine

Confused girl writing on a blackboardDear Madeleine,

I am a fairly new manager in a great organization. I just love the people side of being a manager.

My problem is that I don’t really understand the numbers part of the job. I really want to ask my boss to help me understand, but don’t want to reveal my ignorance.

I literally live in fear of being demoted if anyone finds out how incompetent I am with Excel. What do you suggest?  —Afraid of Numbers


Dear Afraid,

Boy, can I relate to this one. I used to have a completely unreasonable fear of numbers until I realized that I just didn’t know the language.

Few managers are strong at every management task—but you will need to develop a basic working knowledge, so at some point you are going to have to come clean with your manager. I’m guessing that since you probably haven’t demonstrated competence through prior opportunities, your boss may already know about this situation. It obviously isn’t too important, or this topic already would have come up.

In any case, do yourself a favor and get help. You’re not alone—as evidenced by the massive amount of books, classes and online tutorials devoted to finance basics for managers. Read up on Excel and take a class. Who knows? Your company may have training available in-house. Identify resources that will allow you to improve your finance skill set so that it equals your people skill set.

The critical thing is to not expect yourself to know something if you’ve never actually learned it. Even people who excel (no pun intended) at financials had to start somewhere. You might surprise yourself by not only catching on quickly, but being terrific at it. Just because you are great at the people side of things doesn’t mean you will be terrible with numbers. The best way to deal with fear of almost any sort is to get educated, get support from others, and dive in. If the dread of being demoted persists, refer to my previous response to a question about feeling like a fraud. Good luck!

Love Madeleine

About the author

Madeleine Blanchard

Madeleine Homan-Blanchard is a master certified coach, author, speaker, and cofounder of Blanchard Coaching Services. Madeleine’s Advice for the Well Intentioned Manager is a regular Saturday feature for a very select group: well intentioned managers. Leadership is hard—and the more you care, the harder it gets. Join us here each week for insight, resources, and conversation.

Got a question for Madeleine? Email Madeleine and look for your response here next week!

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