We don’t ask ourselves this enough. Here are 6 critical questions to reflect on when considering if you should become a manager or not.
When we’re asked, “Do you want to become a manager?” we often assume there is only one answer.
“Oh, of course I want to be a manager.”
Right? Who doesn’t? Especially when becoming a manager is seen as the primary path of upward progression in a person’s career.
But do you truly want to become a manager? Management is not some sacred club reserved for the hallowed few. Rather, deciding to become a manager should be viewed as one might decide to become a garbage disposal collector or a parking meter attendant: If you’re doing it, you’re doing it for a reason. It’s not for everyone.
In this sense, management is like any other job: There are pros and cons, specific skills, proclivities, and a mindset called for. And as a result, not everyone should feel compelled to aspire toward it. If you don’t love food, you shouldn’t be a chef. If you’re not into buildings, you shouldn’t be an architect. And if you’re not excited about certain things managers do (which I’ll share in a moment), you likely shouldn’t want to become a manager.
Many of us learn this the hard way. Just the other week, I talked to a Vice President of Engineering who had promoted someone who’d expressed a strong desire to become a manager. A year into the role, this person he’d promoted was miserable. He realized he didn’t like his day-to-day tasks a manager, and he wasn’t very good at it. Now he’s happily back to being a senior-level individual contributor.
This VP of Engineering is not alone. In their research, Gallup has found that companies choose the wrong manager 82% of the time. Often times, folks are promoted as managers because of their strengths as an individual contributor – but those strengths don’t necessarily translate to their role as a manager.
“I had a tough time as a first time manager because I quickly and painfully realized that the skillset that got me noticed and moved me up to manager were not the same that would get the job done or help me keep it.”
Consequently, the question, “Do I really want become a manager?” becomes paramount. We can’t rely on others’ suggestion or affirmation that “Yes” to that question is the right answer. We have to dig deeper.
As you ponder “Do I truly want to become a manager?” for yourself, here are 6 critical questions to reflect on….
How much do you enjoy being in “flow” at work?
Positive psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi famously described “flow” as an optimal state of consciousness where you are “completely involved in an activity for its own sake. The ego falls away. Time flies.” Pursuits like painting or rock climbing are often associated with flow – but perhaps you’ve felt it at work as a designer or a writer or programmer.
As a manager, this state of flow is less common, if not non-existent. You aren’t diving deep on a task during an uninterrupted block of time, as required in flow – you’re the one helping others dive deep on a task. You’re also not receiving immediate feedback about your progress in the same way you would as an individual contributor, which is another critical element of flow. As a manager, you might not find out until months later if a decision you made or a conversation you had positively or adversely affected your team.
If you relish being in flow, weigh how important the frequency of that experience is for you. As a manager, you’ll have to accept that you’re not going to be in it as often as you were when you were an individual contributor. Or, understand that you may have to find ways to reprogram what your original requirements for flow were.
Does repeating yourself drive you crazy?
You may be thinking to yourself, “Well, Claire, who doesn’t get at least a little annoyed when they have to repeat themselves?!” Surely, it’s not the most fun thing to do. However, as a manager, you’ll find yourself doing it all the time, no matter how adept you are at communicating. It’s your primary job as a manager, in many ways: To share, explain, reinforce, ask questions, share more, explain more, and ask more questions, over and over again, all the time.
As Ryan Carson, CEO of Treehouse has expressed this on our podcast:
“You have to over-communicate. […] And it feels really painful to be a leader like, ‘Oh my God, I have to say this again? Why are we doing this thing?’ And it turns out, yeah, you do, because people can’t read your mind.”
Yes, people can’t read your mind – and they shouldn’t have to. The best managers bear the burden of making what’s implicit explicit, so their team can function well. But if the idea of doing that – communicating constantly, all the time, over and over – sounds exhausting, you don’t want to become a manager.
How big of a control freak are you?
One of the hardest things to reconcile as a leader is how much you have to let go. Most new managers tacitly know this going into the job – they’ll have to delegate, not work on too many project details, support people on projects, etc.
But in reality, how tight is your grip? Do you have a tendency to be a bit of a control freak (be honest ;-))? Do you see yourself often as “the only person who can do X?”
I remember interviewing Laura Roeder, CEO of MeetEdgar, on this topic, and how she’d gained a ton of clarity on the degree to which good leaders must relinquish control. She said:
“You realize that what you’re really saying is ‘I’m the only person in the world who can do this and I’m the best. I am the greatest at reconciling PayPal downloads that this world has ever seen.’ And that’s really absurd.”
If you find joy in the meddling of details in projects, if you’re aghast at the idea of giving control away, if being the “the only person who can do X” gives you a sense of purpose in your work – that’s fantastic! However, it also mean being manager might not be for you.
Do you like to play detective?
The best managers understand that they’re not managing people – they’re managing an environment with interacting elements of dynamics, past experiences, relationships, cultural influences, and more. So as a manager, it’s up to you to figure out: What is really going on here? What is motivating this team member? Why might she be frustrated with this team member? What is the true underlying cause of why this other team member is struggling? You have to ask questions, be relentlessly curious, and uncover the truth of a situation. You have to play detective.
For some, trying to discover the nuances of people, personality, temperaments, and relationships, and then trying to piece them together is absurdly draining. For others, it’s fascinating, stimulating work. Consider which of the to two it is for you, before deciding to become a manager.
What is your default reaction to conflict?
You will never be able to make everyone happy as a manager. Nor should that be your goal. When you try to please others, you do your team a disservice. You start making compromises and decisions that are in the best interest of you looking good, instead of what is best for your team as a whole. In The CEO Next Door, the authors cite how the best leaders must keep their stakeholders “constructively dissatisfied” in order to move the team productively forward. Getting people to like you is not your purpose as a leader. Should your natural disposition be to avoid conflict, to want everyone to always be happy and like you, you may want to reconsider becoming a manager.
How disciplined are you with your time (really)?
As Peter Drucker, the seminal scholar on management of the 20th century has espoused, an effective executive is one who knows how exactly to spend her time. If you can’t manage your own time, schedule, and priorities, you can’t expect to help your team to manage theirs. This sentiment was reinforced by a Watercooler member who shared with us in online community managers from all over the world, “Shocking news, being a manager is not about managing other people, it’s about effectively and efficiently managing yourself as a resource (your time, productivity, logic aka brain power etc) which then transcends how you manage other people.”
You might find yourself discouraged reading this far – you thought you wanted to become a manager, but now maybe you’re not so sure? That’s a good thing! It means you’re being rigorous about what might be a good fit for you personally, instead of assuming the pre-laid path. You’re never going to be a good manager if you do it because you’re “supposed to.”
Here’s the other thing: You can develop a propensity for the skills, habits, and outlook that a good manager requires. For instance, while maybe you’re not as disciplined with your time as you’d like, you can focus on setting clearer priorities and following through on them. Or, perhaps if you know you tend to avoid conflict, you can practice how you respond and react to conflict in your current role at work.
Regardless, being honest with yourself is what matters. You can now ask yourself, “Do I really want to become a manager?” and know there is more than one answer.
Claire is the CEO of Know Your Team – software that helps you avoid becoming a bad boss. Her company was spun-out of Basecamp back in 2014. If you were interested, you can read more of Claire’s writing on leadership on the Know Your Team blog.