You work hard, you get recognized, and you get promoted. That’s how it works, right? 

In my work with managers and leaders, I find a lot of them fit into one of these two categories:

  • They want to progress in their career, so they keep moving up
  • The organization needs leaders, and as high performers they are encouraged to move up

Do either of these scenarios describe how you’ve arrived where you are in your career? 

Many leaders in these scenarios have actually never given much thought as to whether they WANT to be a manager or leader. Either that’s the direction they are “supposed to go in” or it’s the direction they’ve been pushed in. 

Do you want to be a manager? Is management for you? 

Let’s start with the first scenario—you want to progress in your career, so that means moving “up,” right? Wrong. That’s how organizations—and our society—seem to define success, but is moving up what you really want? 

I once worked for a large consulting firm with a culture for moving up. On one hand, I loved the emphasis on learning new skills, working with mentors, and having a structured model for how to get promoted. On the other hand, soon after getting hired, I found myself drinking the proverbial Kool-Aid and setting my sights on the next level I needed to reach. I reached it, and then looked at the next level above. I worked, and worked, and found most of my time, energy, and thoughts consumed by work. I kept getting “rewarded” with promotions. I am hardworking and driven, and those two strengths were working against me as I sacrificed so much for “getting ahead” and “getting recognized” within this organization. 

One day, I was talking with someone at the level above me, and she was sharing some of the expectations that were on her at that level. All of a sudden, I could see that I didn’t want her life at all. I paused and asked myself, “WHY am I trying to get to her level?” I didn’t really have an answer. 

I worked with a coach and she helped me think through my values and what was most important to me. The mismatch of personal values and company values became readily apparent. I got clear about what I didn’t want, but then had to think about what I DID want. Over the course of the next couple of years, I made some drastic career changes and have built a career that I love and aligns with what I value most. 

Let’s talk about the second scenario—you have been identified as a superstar of your organization, and you’ve received a lot of encouragement to move up and take on leadership roles. With the Baby Boomers retiring, many Gen X and Millennials are being promoted into leadership roles far earlier than the previous generations were. These promotions sometimes happen so quickly, you may not have had time to really process whether this is what you want. 

Many managers in this situation aren’t sure if they want to be managing. What’s tricky about this feeling you may not be clear about whether you just don’t like managing or you haven’t been given the tools and knowledge to manage effectively. I find often it’s really the latter. People don’t think about the distinction between technical knowledge and skills to do their job effectively versus the people skills and emotional intelligence it takes to lead effectively. And unfortunately, skills and intelligence for the people side of things are generally not taught in school or even on the job. 

So what does that mean for you? 

First, I encourage you to take a step back and really think about your personal goals. What do you value? Where do you want to spend your time? What energizes you and what drains you? And how does that impact your career path? 

Second, what are the tasks or situations as a leader that give you the most frustration? If you had tools for handling these situations more effectively, how would that impact how you feel about your job? 

Once you’re more clear about what you want and what you need, you can take action! You can think through how you can better shape your responsibilities to suit the career path YOU want. You can find mentors who can provide support and encouragement as you go after what you want. And training and coaching are resources to help you fill in your skill gaps as you figure out whether stronger leadership skills will increase your job satisfaction.