Every month, career coach Liz Bentley will be answering your candid questions about work, so you never have to stress about the office.
I keep getting pressure to move to a management role, but I'd rather stay a specialist. What should I do?
Deciding whether or not to go into management is a tough decision. As people rise in their careers, they are often called to move into management. But as we all know, managing people is very different than just doing your job and specializing in a particular area. So it’s hard to know what to do when these opportunities come knocking because this decision can really impact your career trajectory.
You should first take stock of how you arrived at this opportunity and understand what’s at stake in your decision.
Suggestions to move up into management usually happen when you have stood out in your job and people feel you are ready to shift from doing the work to overseeing the people doing the work. This pulls you away from the specialist work of perfecting the skills yourself to helping others perfect them. Things to consider include whether the management role will:
- Take you away from doing what you really love OR provide you with as much or even more fulfillment by helping others develop the skills you mastered.
- Disrupt your lifestyle too severely (through added responsibility, hours, stress, etc.) OR be manageable and worth the extra work because it will lead to greater opportunity down the road.
- Be a sink or swim experience OR be supported through training and mentorship while you develop new management skills.
You also have to consider whether staying in your current role will risk stagnation or negative repercussions. These are crucial questions to ask yourself as you weigh the numerous factors in your decision.
Second, you have to uncover whether or not it’s fear that’s holding you back.
Management is hard and requires very different skills from being a specialist. Because of this, it can be a deterrent for many. Being good at a job and being good at managing people do not go hand in hand. Learning to be a good manager can be a long journey, but it can also be a rewarding one.
In management, you need to understand how to work with all types of people and personalities as well as generations and cultures. It pushes you to look beyond the expertise of the work to understanding how to motivate and inspire people to grow and rise. You are also often called to have vision for the work that needs to be done. This means you have to get out of the doing of the work and more into the thinking about the work. Sometimes this entails asking the tough question, “Are we even doing the right work at all? And if not, what is the work we should be doing?” Additionally, moving up into a manager role is often really only the next step. In many careers management has many layers and levels to rise into. Your first management role is just that, your first shot at overseeing people on a ladder that can be very lengthy.
Giving up the opportunity to rise into management is a big choice. Staying a specialist allows you to avoid learning how to grow people and pushes you to stayed focused on skills and expertise. However, those career tracks can be limited and not offer a lot of long-term growth. Inevitably almost all roads lead to management and sensibly so, as the biggest expense and investment companies make is in people. Therefore, knowing how to run teams is critical to developing divisions, products and organizations.
This is not to say that you must go into management. It can be avoided temporarily and in some cases altogether. But, in general, resisting management often tells the higher ups that you are not interested in growing in the organization and your career track will narrow. I suggest that when weighing your options, you take all of this into consideration and have faith that management, although daunting, can be a very rewarding role.
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Liz Bentley is the founder of Liz Bentley Associates, a consulting firm specializing in leadership development programs for individuals and companies. Drawing upon her background in psychology, previous experience in sales and management, and a lifetime of experience in competitive sports, Liz has a unique appreciation of mindset and the power it has to change patterns of behavior. Liz received her BA in Psychology from the University of Virginia and her coaching certification from New York University.
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