It used to be that all employees would, at some point or another, have to consider a tough question: “Is my useful life as a worker coming to an end, and is it time to move into management to make something of my career?”
In truth, however, this question may be on its way out. Moving into management is no longer the only way out of a potential career dead end. In many companies today, employees can move sideways, rather than upward, to enrich their careers and broaden their horizons. Alternatively, they can climb up “specialist” ladders, which lead to higher status without putting people in managerial roles.
Overall, it seems that many employees are realizing they don’t have to become managers to advance their careers. A 2009 study from Randstad found that more than half of workers didn’t want to move into management roles.
Entry-level workers now have more choice than ever in their career options. Do they want to move upwards or sideways? Do they want to become specialists or managers?
And so, rather than asking the age-old question of, “How can I move up into management?”, employees now ask a different question: “Do I want to move into management?”
For workers who find themselves pondering whether or not management is right for them, I offer the following three questions. Answer them honestly before you make any decisions about moving up the corporate ranks.
1. Can You Handle an Uncertain Environment?
One of the things that people dislike about being on the shop floor, so to speak, is being told what to do all the time. If you move up the management ladder, on the other hand, you’ll find that you become more and more autonomous with each rung. However, with this autonomy comes increasing uncertainty.
When you’re a manager, things aren’t as black and white as they seemed when you were a junior worker. There’s no instruction manual. No one person has all the answers. You may never feel you have enough information to make the best decisions. The pressure of managerial autonomy is very different from the pressure of junior-employee obedience — and not everyone enjoys or thrives in this sort of climate.
Before deciding to take a crack at ascending the management chain, ask yourself whether or not you enjoy uncertainty. Do you want to forge your own clear path through chaos where none existed before you? Do you have the skills to be effective in a managerial environment? If not, are you confident you could develop them?
If you can give a resounding “Yes” to most of these questions, then a management career may be right for you. Otherwise, you may want to reconsider your career path.
2. Do You Enjoy Playing the Political Game?
No matter where you fall in a company’s chain of command, you’ll have to deal with workplace politics. However, you will find that the political machinations intensify as you go up the ladder. If you want to go into management, expect to spend much less of your time focusing on tasks and much more of your time on greasing wheels, forging alliances, wining and dining, etc., etc.
Research from FSU professor Pamela Perrewé found that “a person rarely gets promoted without having developed strong political skills.”
If you excel at — and enjoy — playing the political game, then a management career is probably a great option for you. If politics is not your thing, you probably should stay away from management — at least for the moment.
3. Do You Even Enjoy Managing People?
Many people fall into management careers without even considering whether or not they actually enjoy managing people. These people just see management as the next logical step, and they kind of sleepwalk into it.
As a result, you can find many a frustrated manager who doesn’t enjoy being away from the action. These managers don’t want to be assigning work to others; they’d rather be writing code, doing design, or crafting content.
Prior to applying for a management post, you have to ask yourself if you even have a desire to do the kind of work that management entails. If you don’t really want to do the dirty work of managing — well, then you don’t want to be a manager.
If, after reading all of this, you find that you are still not totally sure about whether or not management is right for you, then you may want to see if there is a low-risk opportunity for you to try out a management role within your business. For example, you could act as a team leader for the duration of one project, or even move up to a management role with the stipulation that, if it doesn’t work out, you can return to your old role. (Such a stipulation will need to be negotiated beforehand, of course.)
Also, just because management isn’t right for you at this moment, that doesn’t mean it won’t be right for you later on down the line. Just make sure you ask yourself these questions any and every time you consider moving into management.