Yes, It’s Perfectly Ok Not To Be A Manager

penguins-702729A very interesting Careerbuilder survey just found that the majority of employees do not want to be managers. This research, which surveyed over 3,600 employees, found that only 40% of men and 29% of women aspire to a leadership role (34% overall).

When asked why these people did not aspire to leadership, the #1 answer was that they are simply satisfied in their current roles (52%) and #2 was unwillingness to sacrifice work-life balance (34%).

Among those who do want to be managers, the age breakdown is as follows (compliments of HBR for the chart):


As one can see, the older we get, the less excited we become about the jump from individual contributor to manager or leadership role.

So what is this all about?

Ultimately this is very good news. While companies always need more leaders, we need leaders who want to be leaders. While becoming a manager is usually a promotion and opportunity for more money and responsibility, it is not for everyone. And while many of us are thrust into leadership roles before we are ready, it can often be a major derailer to your career.

I recently had a wonderful meeting with Beverly Kaye, founder of Career Systems International, one of the most renowned research and consulting companies in the area of career management. Bev and I were talking about this issue and we agreed that one of the biggest problems organizations have is promoting people into leadership who really don’t want the job.

Being a manager is not easy. In fact as I like to put it, the shift from individual contributor to manager is not just a new job, it’s really a new career. Now, instead of driving success through your own efforts and hard work, you drive success by helping other people become successful. Managers must learn to assess people, coach people, and live vicariously through their success.

My article on 9 Reasons I Loved My First Boss was one of the most widely read pieces I’ve ever written. Why? Because, as you can see from the comments, everyone has a story about their “best boss” and their “worst boss.” When you become a new manager, you are very likely to be a crummy boss for a while – because it takes time to learn.

One of the most difficult things new managers face is the need to be honest and provide positive but constructive feedback to a subordinate. Many technical professionals are promoted to management because of their technical prowess – but once in leadership they become autocratic or don’t provide feedback. The problem is not that they don’t know what to do, they just haven’t learned how to manage people.

Everyone manages in a different way – and a leadership role will test your own self awareness like nothing else. This is why there is such a big business in leadership coaching and leadership development – leaders at all levels need support. And remember that leadership is often lonely: you’re the one with the pressure and you have to make the call – so often the stress and workload is much harder than you may think. And my experience shows you’ll become better at it over time – I look back at my early managerial roles and I”m embarrassed about some of the things I did.

I wont spend more time on the leadership topic here, but let me simply conclude with a simple reminder. If you are truly ready to lead, then step right up and take the plunge. Just remember that becoming a leader is an awesome and difficult responsibility. You are not only responsible for the success of your team, but you are also responsible for the success and development of each individual in that team. And people are all different, each with their own drive, ego, and needs. (It’s not unlike being a parent, which is similarly difficult.)

(One of the best quotes about leadership is the simplest – who are good leaders? People who have lots of followers.)

If you’re not ready for it, just take your time. Most organizations now build terrific career models and specialist roles for technical and professional specialists, team leaders, and project leaders. These are all jobs which bring out your leadership skills and can help you decide when and if you’re ready to really manage people. And it’s perfectly ok if you dont’ take that managerial position – as 66% of people have decided.

When you do make the shift, take it seriously. Read every book you can, talk with other managers, and get yourself a coach. It is one of the most awesome and difficult opportunities you have in business. I personally watch, study, and learn from leaders every day.

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