What to do if you are promoted into management without really wanting to be there?

The Accidental Manager

I was recently asked this question: What if you thought you wanted to be in management and when you get there, realize it’s not for you?

In essence, the interviewer wanted to find out what kind of people are cut out, or not cut out, for management? And how do you save face and do what you’re happier doing, even though it’s a level below management?

The common wisdom

It is typically thought that to be a good manager, you need to be exceptionally good at the business that you will manage. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Great individual contributors succeed because they have a love of doing the job. Whether it be coding software or recruiting new talent to the organization, they thrive on doing the job at hand.

So how do we reward that success?

By making them managers who success will be determined not on how well they do the job but on how well they direct others to do the work. Yes, they now need to idly sit back and watch their staff do the work, often not to the standard of quality that they would like.

When I work with organizational leaders, I tell them that their best management material is not the key star player but more they mid-level producer who likes what they do but better yet has an affinity for working with others.

They are the dependable, committed team player, not the lead superstar. They excel at influence and persuasion, not at the long hours of solo flight.

When asked by the individual contributor whether they should aspire to management I respond: “How much do you love what you do? Can you be happy not doing it? Watching others do it not quite as well as you do?” If the answer is “I really love my job” I caution them to think twice about getting into management.

The bottom line

Management is not about individual effort, it is about getting a collective of (sometimes) motley misfits to all contribute their best while you get your happiness out of watching them succeed.