Don’t Want to Be a Manager? You Can Still Grow in Your Career
In today’s labour market, being given the responsibility to manage an increasing number of people and tasks is the most common way to advance in your career.
Promotions into managerial positions are almost universally regarded as the most desirable rewards of hard work and most natural routes of moving up the corporate ladder.
But simply because you excel at what you do does not necessarily mean that you are eager to oversee other people or even that you can actually thrive in a managerial position.
Picture this. You have put in several thousand hours of blood and sweat at work, successfully climbing up the career ladder, only to wake up one morning and realise you kind of hate your current job.
You sure used to love the grind and the more the successes under your belt, the higher you moved up the ladder.
But now there is one thing that is very clear about your current position that unsettles you.
You are no longer doing the hands-on work that excited you; you are nowadays buried deep in managerial tasks such as supervising juniors and budgeting that by the end of the day you almost feel numb.
It is ironic how all that hard work and accomplishment have earned you an enviable title that nevertheless makes you feel hollow, exasperated and unfulfilled.
While many might disagree with the scenario above as reason enough to deter you from seeking greater responsibility in an organisation, there is an increasing number of workers who would be willing to give up these trappings to lead more fulfilling careers.
MORE PEOPLE ARE REJECTING MANAGEMENT PROMOTIONS
Dr Richard Wellins, a senior researcher at Development Dimensions International (DDI) and the co-author of the book Your First Leadership Job says in recent times he has observed an increasing number of people turning down promotions or taking more time to weigh the decision more carefully than has been done before.
He opines that this has much to do with the pursuit for the so-called work-life balance, or its more modern counter-part work-life integration that inculcates flexibility and a wholesome employee experience – managers will rarely enjoy this flexibility as they are almost always on call.
In fact, many people who have grown into management appear to regret it. Wellins says that in a quick survey he did at an event, he asked about 100 managers if they could go back to their old roles as individual contributors provided they were allowed to keep their current pay.
Nearly 90 percent replied in the affirmative indicating that a startling majority of managers have been and are accepting managerial roles for the wrong reasons.
Research shows becoming the boss is much harder and thankless than the larger population would expect it to be.
During one study, 385 top-level managers were asked to compare their transition into managerial responsibilities with a list of other sources of stress they would have experienced in everyday life.
A majority ranked their transition into management higher in terms of stress than a major illness, divorce or dealing with teenagers.
There is a scientific explanation for this. A 2009 study by researchers from the University of Illinois investigated the association between success and stress.
In line with today’s ‘up or out culture’, poverty at the beginning is a significant predictor of stress because obviously insufficient resources put tremendous difficulties on everyday life.
However, as the study found, as wealth increases, there is an associated increase in stress linked to demanding work and being robbed of recreation/personal time.
In another study commissioned by DDI, 600 managers were enrolled to investigate the reasons why people took promotions. The responses were compared.
Managers who indicated that they were sort-of pressured into taking up the new roles without particularly being enthusiastic about it had a 50 percent higher chance of leaving their employers voluntarily than those who actively asked for promotions.
We have been socialised into a culture of always aiming higher up in our career paths and guarding against a stall.
While quick, upward mobility is celebrated as success, we are better off thinking long and hard about our true career goals than what our companies want from us before allowing us to be pressured into a management promotion.
While you might feel that you don’t have a choice, you always do have a choice.
A promotion must be considered in the same way you would a job offer from a competitor – it could hurt your career in the long run if you don’t.
10 QUESTIONS TO ASK BEFORE ACCEPTING A MANAGERIAL PROMOTION
These are drawn from suggestions by Anne Latham, the author of the 2018 book The Clarity Papers.
Latham is the founder of Uncommon Clarity, a leadership consulting firm that helps organisations and leaders create transformative strategic clarity.
Below are the questions you should ask yourself before taking a managerial position.
1. Why Do I Want to Take This Promotion?
What’s the most attractive thing about it? The perks? The fancy title? Or is it the fatter pay check?
Latham advises that the most important element to consider in accepting any new job proposition is the fit.
By evaluating the fit, you will be able to achieve more clarity to give up the very enticing recognition, wealth and status that is associated.
2. Will This Promotion Advance My Career Direction?
Take into account your longer-term career goal. You might gift yourself a big but short-term windfall but your ongoing serving in that role may land you on the wrong career path.
3. How Have The Previous Role-Holders Fared?
You might want to know the reasons why the previous manager left the job.
Has there been a high turnover for this role?
You have to investigate this situation before making the decision, otherwise you could be setting yourself up for failure.
4. Will I Be Able to Properly Balance My Personal and Professional Responsibilities?
Obviously there will be trade-offs associated with your new set of responsibilities.
You have to clearly define your personal life and work life priorities and envision how your new promotion might affect them.
How well will you be able to navigate the increased work hours or the heightened stress levels?
5. Can I Thrive in the New Role?
Are you more afraid of failing more than you are excited about navigating the learning curve and growing?
When the promotion was fronted to you, were you more concerned about how people will judge your performance more than how you will get things done?
If the answer to both these is yes, you might want to reconsider taking the promotion.
6. Would I Have Applied for Such a Position if it Didn’t Come in the Form of a Promotion?
You should ask yourself this question to see how much interest you have in this position.
This will also help you overlook the often blinding incentives of salary raises and perks.
7. How Happy Will I Be Waking Up to Go to Work Each Morning?
Your happiness and wellbeing have to come on top in this decision making process.
After all, you have already proven yourself to be a valuable employee to earn yourself this confidence gesture.
Why then not think about your happiness. If, for example, it involves dealing with historically problematic staff, or a product/service you have reservations about, is it still worth stressing over?
8. How Will My Relationships With Co-Workers Be Affected?
You will most probably find your friends reporting directly to you. You are in charge of their performance reviews and you might even have to fire one of them.
This can be problematic to you depending on the strength of these relationships up to this point.
Are you going to be comfortable with that?
9. Am I Well Suited?
Latham argues that the incidence of people being promoted into jobs that don’t fit their skillset is very common.
For example, promotion from a task-oriented role to management when the employee best suits in the production environment.
Latham advises one to have a sit-down with the current role holder to ensure the day-to-day work matches your skills and preferences.
10. Does the Position Benefit Both You and the Company?
Are you being asked to take charge of a failing unit in the company and turn its fortunes around?
Does this also mean if the unit is no longer feasible you will go down with it?
You don’t want to find yourself enjoying the short-lived perks of a dying role or get stuck in a department still holding tight to outdated technology that when you come off it you are barely marketable.
GROWING WITHOUT BECOMING A MANAGER
Don’t want to be a manager after answering the above questions?
Don’t worry, it is absolutely possible to grow your career without putting yourself in a managerial box that you don’t want to be in.
In fact, as we have observed, the ‘up or out’ culture is gradually phasing out as employees continue to take back agency from their employers and defining their professional futures to best fit their strengths and interests.
If you feel you are not cut out to be a manager, or you just don’t want to be one, we have a number of strategies drawn from career experts to ensure you improve your stature in the industry as well as boost your salary and associated perks without ever need to be in charge of people like Dave who will call in sick just before a major deliverable is due.
Choose the Right Roles
While it is very possible to turn down management roles gracefully, it would be even better when you don’t have to be in that position at all.
So, this has to start from the job-seeking stage.
When you are on the job hunt, you have to be very deliberate about the organisations and roles that you see out.
It should be clear to you that they are roles that will benefit from your expertise in the field and are keen on individual contributions.
If you take such a job, you will surely find yourself disappointed or plain frustrated.
Obviously, the very best point to find out if you may be required to assume a management role later on during your tenure will be usually during the interviewing process.
You will need to ask the right questions regarding this concern when the opportunity arises. You should have as one of your questions a clarification on what a longer-term engagement in that role would entail/look like.
This will achieve two things: One, you will understand if they would be expecting you to manage a unit at some point, and two, as the author of Fearless Salary Negotiation, Doody Josh, says, it will enable you to stand out as a meticulous candidate already concerned about future business success. This according to Josh is a win-win!
Now, if after this it becomes clear you might be expected to get into a management role sooner or later, you may need to consider this as not being the right role for you.
If that seems not to be the case and you have also inquired about the procedure for things like raises, bonuses and promotions, you could go ahead and take up the job.
But that will be largely contingent on your ability to negotiate for higher pay.
Make Sure You Check in From Time to Time
Remember this is all about you looking out for yourself.
And you know for-profit organisations are inevitably designed to take as much from you as they can.
So once you have decided on a role that proves to be the best fit, you must make sure you are in periodic communication with the management channels to ensure you are not inadvertently fast-tracked into a management position.
You may always want to check with your manager at least once a quarter on what the expectation of growth are for you, so that you may be able to begin the non-managerial preference conversation more naturally before your impressive performance gets them interested in promoting you.
As Josh observes, you will be well ahead of the promotion conversation and avert any performance review surprises that will angle you towards a territory you don’t want to find yourself in.
You don’t want your manager o spend time arguing the case for your promotion only to later learn that you have no interest in it.
During these periodic meetings, you must ensure that you get to the point where you discuss with your manager about your preferred growth needs and come up with a plan or even a timeline for working towards your mutually agreed goals.
You Could Remain With Your Employer But Create A New Path With New Responsibilities
The decision to promote you must have been based on the management noticing some quality/ability in you they deemed important for an effective manager.
You have got to make sure your declination is framed around the context of helping the organisation realise their short-term and longer-term goals by capitalising on those competitive points you have demonstrated.
Career coach, Jan Johnston Osburn, cautions that, for this to work, you really need to be very aware of the organisation’s goals and how you can be instrumental.
Otherwise, you are better off not having this conversation.
Now, companies would appreciate being able to offload some responsibilities often assigned to managers to other roles, if when adopted, they increase effectiveness and deliver value.
You will have to figure out which opportunities you can stretch yourself out while maintaining the same position (or in another non-managerial position) and pitch this.
That could be in a variety of projects, high-status assignments that you have proved you can excel in or plainly more responsibility. Here is how to do it;
- Shunning tunnel vision: Capitalise on your insight into functions beyond your role. Offer your expertise to handle issues at the greater organisational level instead of limiting yourself to the functional level.
- Boost your team by mentoring junior staff: There almost always will be junior staffers who are stuck here or there. They could be starters and you could offer your expertise to aid the on-boarding programme. Mentors are quite valuable to companies and there will be rewards for this.
- Position yourself as a subject matter expert in an important function: Look out for problematic areas in the organisation that your expertise could be useful. Once you do that and you have ascertained the value you can add, approach your manager to pitch this intervention. You need to have a concrete plan to ensure your idea is bought.
Remember, you don’t have to leave your company. You should consider exhausting opportunities to discuss with your manager(s) areas where you can partner with them to cut out a new career track for yourself.
This is of curse if you are generally happy with your employer and their strategic direction.
For example, up until the 80s Time Magazine’s career track for writers was staff writer senior Editor.
But after a realisation that some staff did not desire to leave the functional role of weaving stories, Time created the role senior writer, a role now associated with similar prestige as senior editor complete with proportionate salary and perks.
To remain competitive in the global labour market, many companies will need to eventually address this issue.
They will be taking the cue from the unorthodox titles formula characterised by start-ups – writer happiness managers, directors of fun, ministers of synergy – which while seemingly ridiculous go a long way in retaining valuable talent.
If research by Office Team is anything to go by, it is apparent that employees are not anymore attracted by the old carrots, they want to be rewarded differently. Office Team reports that about 70 percent of workers do not want to succeed their bosses.
Pitch a Different Kind of Promotion
Leveraging on the goodwill already shown by your employer is another varied way to approaching the precious point.
Your employer sees that you are self-motivated, empathetic, organised etc. but you convince them these and other more specialised qualities and skills are more suited in a couple other kinds of high-level roles which aren’t necessarily management.
As the CEO of Ruckus Wireless, Selina Lo argues, if you are good leader in your subject area and management is not your cup of tea, you could ask to become a ‘senior’ version of the role (just as in the Time) – you would be taking up a more strategic thinking responsibility handling complex projects without having to touch budget, annual reviews or supervision.
You should by now already know that they really want to retain you and as such you have a bit of an upper hand when explaining the added value to the organisation without risking being hollow, stressed and unfulfilled.
Identify an Organisation that Does Share Your Values
As we had mentioned earlier, many organisations are getting rid of the traditional Industrial Age corporate hierarchy. Michael Abrash, who is part of the Valve developer community expresses a profound notion of this evolving corporate structure.
He envisions a new norm where teams coalesce and repeatedly dissolve within an organisation.
Taking time to find yourself this type of organisation that embraced flat hierarchy will do your career much good.
Strike Out On Your Own
Of course, forging your own path could also mean leaving your employer and heading into consulting and freelancing, as many have done.
That ego boost offered by management approval can be big enough to lead you into heading your own outfit. Just make sure you have in mind the following:
- Having clarity about what success means to yourself.
- Appreciation of the fact income flows might be irregular than you are used to.
- Quit after figuring your monthly overheads such as healthcare. Figure out how to lower expenses and have some ‘stash’ to deal with the uncertainties of the short-run.
- Despite your amazing credentials you’ll need to brush up your sales and marketing skills if this is going to work. Growing a thick skin against rejection will be absolutely necessary.
- You will get lonely often – make sure you are well networked to mitigate this one.
- Adopt the idea of evolving from project to project – you don’t want to be too static to be relevant.
Finally, we go back to the core question. You have and need to be continually growing in your career.
But what does it really entail? Why would your manager even consider you for a promotion?
To grow you must learn and especially you need to be continuously learning if you don’t want your career to stall.
You will have to be constantly learning new skills that help you advance your career in whichever direction you please. Learning is an invaluable asset at any point in your career.
Courtney Sembler, the manager for HubSpot’s education academy offers the following tips as a guide to ensuring you are continuously learning.
- Having a growth mind-set – get feedback from mentors, ensure the feedback conversation has growth in mind and be honest about where you need help.
- You don’t know what you don’t know – Do as much as research as you can to reduce the knowledge gap, ask for what you haven’t found out even in interviews.
- Developing new skills – use online resources such as Medium.com, network with those with skills you want to acquire, attend meetings and workshops in your interest area.
With continuous learning there’s a near-assurance of continuous growth.
Regardless of what you decide on, make sure you have reflected very carefully (remember the 10 questions above?) and make the decision that you feel is best for you.
Every decision will have its consequences – these may often be the very boosts we need to make a crucial turnaround on our careers.
Many people might find it odd, even stupid to turn down a promotion into management and if you entertain the naysayers you will be derailed into uncertainty.
You don’t have to be certain either, but if you feel that management is not the best role for you, you can still advance your career without becoming a manager.
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