It's a myth that everyone wants to become a boss at work. It's also a myth that those who don't want a management position have reached their career ceilings. So what happens if you don't want to become a manager? Are you stuck at the same level forever — or are there other ways to climb the corporate ladder?
Don't worry — this issue is surprisingly common
You get a job because it's what you love and what you're good at. You progress quickly and get promoted, and soon you're not doing the work that attracted you to the industry in the first place. Rather, you're managing people — which can be very similar in any industry.
Ask yourself if it's just fear of the unknown
You may be brilliant at whatever it is you do but have no management experience. What's more, the technical skills (that make you a good salesperson or coder or chef) are very different from people management skills. If you suspect that you are going to be approached for a management job at some point soon, ask your company for training and coaching. Can you get a small sample by shadowing a manager, working as a deputy, or filling in for a boss who is away? You may discover that, once you try it, you really like running a team.
Reframe the way you view management
Many high-level technical people are seen as experts and are afforded considerable status and respect. Colleagues seek out their views and ask for their advice. They will be asked to give talks and do presentations. It's quite egocentric, and these people often view management as a kind of dull support function. So, can you shift your mindset away from the idea that you're the talent and towards the idea that you're a manager invested in getting the best out of your team? Can you also convince yourself that management is a skill you need to learn and that your expertise combined with this will be a powerful combination?
Become a specialist
This is a good time for those who are not keen on climbing the traditional career ladder. On one hand, today's flatter, more distributed companies are far less hierarchical than they once were. On the other, businesses recognise this and want to retain talented people. So, they may offer alternative career paths, which allow those with high degrees of expertise to progress without becoming managers. An alternative version of this is to become such a technical expert that you are indispensable and nobody would dream of making you a boss.
Plan how you will refuse management offers
Most moves into management will be seen as a promotion and a reward by those above you. There is an expectation that you will be delighted to be offered the job and will happily accept. Refusal can make you look ungrateful, unambitious, and uninterested in the company. It may be received badly. So, you need to have a diplomatic rationale ready that demonstrates you are still invested in your job and the business. You might say that you think your current role can be expanded, or you could ask for greater responsibility or personal development. Be very careful here, though. Refuse more than one promotion and you are likely to start getting passed over. Soon, you could find yourself looking older and more expensive than younger peers.
Ask yourself if you can stick it out for a few years
Lower and middle management tends to be about people and looking after teams. It can be thankless, and it is the idea of dealing with difficult underlings that puts many people off. But once you get through the middle and into senior management, it tends to be more about strategy, vision, and corporate direction. The drudgery and people stuff falls away. If you are sufficiently ambitious, you may be able to put up with this.
Consider changing jobs
It's possible the role you want does not exist in your business but is available elsewhere. If you are in a small company, you may discover that large businesses have plenty of space for big jobs outside the traditional hierarchy. Similarly, in certain sectors, like the creative and tech industries, high performers are viewed as "the talent" and there are often two tracks to the top — one managerial and the other expertise-based. Switching companies can also be good for your CV if not done too often. At the very least, it can be an effective way of putting off becoming a manager for a couple of years.
Become a consultant
Consulting is often the ultimate nonmanagerial job. Companies hire you for expertise and employ you on a project basis. When the project is finished, you leave, having gained even more expertise. Nobody pressures you to make the move up to management.
Rhymer Rigby is an FM magazine contributor and author of The Careerist: Over 100 Ways to Get Ahead at Work. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Neil Amato, an FM magazine senior editor, at Neil.Amato@aicpa-cima.com.