Are You Sure You Want to be a Manager?


In past decades, the words “I’m a manager, now” would be accompanied by grand music. Those words carried pride and honor, and indicated that a pinnacle of success had been reached. Traditionally, success was based on moving up in an organization. The last decade has shown us with layoffs, mergers and downsizing, that the time when a person stayed with one organization for his entire career seems to be long gone. Fewer management slots are available and this change causes many to look back with longing for the good old days. However, becoming a manager is not all that it is cracked up to be.

A number of company-wide surveys across industries have identified a new trend. People are (a) not interested in becoming managers in the first place and many are refusing promotions; and (b) managers are voluntarily stepping back to non-supervisory roles. The most commonly cited complaints from managers include: hating all the meetings; never being able to do enough for employees; being caught in the middle between bosses and subordinates; and lack of respect. A significant number of employees do not wish to be managers, particularly now when workloads are so heavy. In the era of entrepreneurship, the manager’s role can seem thankless and well hidden behind the company stars who just launched a new product line. Shortened time frames for product creation, response, or planning hits the manager as hard or harder than staff. Long hours are the norm. “Dilbert’s unflattering portrayal says a lot about how management has evolved in our culture. Cynicism is rampant,” says T. Quinn Spitzer, Chief Executive Officer of Kepner Tregoe, Inc., a Princeton, N.J. management consulting firm.

Historically, most benefits, challenges and opportunities for growth were available in only one direction—and that was up. Today’s work world offers greater flexibility, with job sharing, new work locations, and telecommuting. Now a wider range of opportunities exists for development, challenge and job satisfaction in non-management roles. There are often fewer headaches and if you have a field position, there is more freedom of operation. With the rise in self-managing teams, people can get a taste of management without having the same corporate structure behind them. Some companies have designed career ladders for personnel in technical ranks allowing for promotions without requiring the supervisory function. Remaining in the field, as a top producer in sales or as a star performer in another area, may not cause a decrease in salary. Moving up may not significantly increase income and benefits as much as it used to.

On the Up Side

This is not to say that companies are in trouble and cannot find managers, nor is it to say that being a manager is hell on earth for everyone. It is not all bad news or there would not be any. Of course, one’s experience in management is greatly affected by the company’s culture.

Managers have an opportunity to view the business in a broader context, plan and grow personally. Managers can play more of a leadership role than ever before. This is an opportunity to counsel, motivate, advise, guide, empower and influence large groups of people. These important skills can be used in business as well as in personal and volunteer activities. If you truly like people and enjoy mentoring and helping others to grow and thrive, management is a great job (so is training). Good managers, and there are a lot of them, can inspire an incredible amount of loyalty. When I worked at the University of California at Berkeley in the ‘80’s, my boss, Jordan Safine, was great. He worked on our behalf, fought for us when upper management wanted to cut benefits, had fair rules and treated all equitably. I have never met anyone who was able to inspire more loyalty in his staff than Jordan Safine.

This new work world offers numerous opportunities for career satisfaction. Think hard about whether you are cut out for a supervisory position. Now that being an individual contributor is not synonymous with being a drudge, staying where you are can be very satisfying and offer different opportunities for success.

Odette Pollar is a nationally known speaker, author, and consultant. President of the management consulting firm, Smart Ways to Work based in Oakland, CA, her most recent book is Surviving Information Overload. Email to share your comments, questions and suggestions: Visit us at: call: 1-800-599-8463.

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