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Maybe You’re Not Cut Out to be a Boss

February 8, 2013

Over the past four years of blogging, I have harped quite a lot on the benefits of taking risks, pushing forward, and taking responsibility for getting promoted at work. I believed this was our obligation as Christians in the marketplace – to be good stewards of ourselves by stepping out in faith, out of our comfort zones, in order to meet our God-given potential that otherwise might lie dormant and passive.

“Don’t hide in the corner! Get in the ring! Stand up and be heard! Don’t be a baby! ” These were my rallying cries for the subdued brethren and sistren who needed encouragement in their workplace. There’s a leader in there, somewhere, I thought. Let’s drag it out of you.

Then I read an article last week in the New York Times Sunday Business section that offered a different perspective:

Maybe not everyone is cracked up to be a boss.

In this article, author Peggy Klaus poses several pointed questions to help consider if getting into management is for you. Your answers may be signs that perhaps you are not really cut out for being a boss.

1. Do you enjoy working with people, helping them to grow and to become successful? Management is not about doing more of the same work you did before. It’s now about people, developing, growing and inspiring them to be better and achieve more than they ever thought they could do. If you don’t like working with people, don’t even think about management.

2. Do you handle uncertainty well? Some folks need to know every detail and every answer to ensure everyone knows their expertise. Once you hit the management level, the ambiguity index rises exponentially. You now enter a world of suspended knowledge, where you spend large chunks of time in the netherworld of not knowing how layers of complexity might affect an outcome. If you can’t get comfortable saying, “I don’t know the answer to that yet,” then you shouldn’t become a boss.

3. Do you mind making decisions without knowing the entire picture? Managers must make decisions that will sometimes take weeks, months, or even years before you will know whether it was a good decision or not. Getting exact and immediate cause-effect outcomes are nice, but it often doesn’t work that way when you enter the atmosphere of upper management, even when you’ve done your homework. If you don’t have the stomach for decision-making in a partial view of the world, don’t plan to get promoted.

4. Do you need everyone to like you? If so, you will hate being a boss. When you are managing people, you are called to make choices and decisions that will invariably be misinterpreted or maligned by those on the receiving end. It requires not just a thick skin, but a confidence and deep conviction about the decisions you make in order to push through the noise. If you can’t handle the constant judgment by others, don’t step up to the management post.

5. Can you fire someone? Every leader will attest that firing people is one of the most difficult, emotionally taxing actions that they will ever face in their careers. And it never gets easier. The problem, though, is that at some point it is necessary in every organization, either because of reorganization requirements or performance issues. If you would rather avoid conflict and messy decisions, then you are not ready to become a manager.

This is the reality of being in leadership. If you’re not ready to say “yes,” then maybe you are better off passing over the promotions to stay in the trenches, where you can be a great contributor.

And, you know what? It’s okay. Really.

Now get out there a be a star performer. And don’t be a baby about it!

11 Comments leave one →
  1. February 8, 2013 12:35 pm

    Great post. I used to be frustrated by high-potential employees who wouldn’t go into management because they didn’t think they’d like it. Then I started to admire their self-knowledge instead, and looked for ways for their talents to be more fully employed in individual contributor roles – that worked much better! This is a really good list of tests – not sure I pass them all even now (I still want everyone to like me for example!)

    • February 12, 2013 6:16 am

      Graham – Nice to see you around here again! Agreed, the self-awareness is a huge sign of maturity, and I admire it when I see that in people.

  2. Kevin permalink
    February 8, 2013 12:36 pm

    Great Article

  3. February 8, 2013 1:25 pm

    Fantastic article. Important to shift our focus and look at leading differently. Thanks!

  4. February 8, 2013 4:20 pm

    A healthy perspective. I’ve battled the boss vs. creative throughout my career, ultimately preferring the latter and happy to be given the choice. I think they choose bosses by height.

  5. February 9, 2013 9:14 am

    A few years back, I started a “pre-leader” academy for frontline folks to get a taste of what was required to be a leader. I have to say that a couple of the most satisfying conversations or outcomes were when someone got to the “no way” realization.

    • February 12, 2013 6:19 am

      “Pre-leader” is a great idea, to help people test out new turf around managing and leading. We have “leadership” classes at our company, and it becomes a self-selecting screening process to weed out people who thought they wanted leadership, but then realize they aren’t really interested.

  6. February 9, 2013 7:56 pm

    maybe not everyone is cracked up (enough) to be a boss…

  7. February 11, 2013 1:51 pm

    I’ve heard from many people who thought the next career step was management, but they ended up hating it when they got there. It seems kinda obvious after you point it out that doing your work is not the same skill set as managing people who do your work – but I wonder why we don’t get that sooner?

    • February 12, 2013 6:20 am

      It’s like management’s biggest secret – don’t tell people what it’s like to become a manager; just promote them and expect them to instinctively “get it” without any preparation. Yes, Loren, this is a problem.

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