Are people who do not want management responsibilities suspicious?

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A few weeks ago, I was facilitating an in-house panel discussion with senior leaders of a Top 5 IT company, on the topic of leadership in the said company. Questions and answers were conveniently generic and politically correct, as they often are during these exercises. Luckily, the panel was followed by sit down dinner with our panelists sitting at different tables, and that’s when the discussion got interesting.

One of the participants shared the problem that he had in dealing with one of his top engineers that explicitly said he didn’t want to be promoted to a people manager position…and then all hell broke loose around our table. “How can you not want to become a manager?” was the most common reaction from his fellow participants. Apparently, none of them had ever faced this unique situation as everyone they had ever met (including themselves) see management as the holy grail of corporate life. Our panelist let them talk for a few minutes and then said something that absolutely blew me away: “People like that have nothing to do in the corporate world, you should get rid of him asap.” wow. WOW! I almost choked on my dinner. This answer came from a highly successful person who had been managing others for over a decade. And this isn’t the first time I hear something similar.

Is management really the holy grail of a corporate career? If it is, then look no further to understand a demoralized and disengaged workforce. It is mathematically impossible for everyone to become a manager in a pyramidal organizational structure. What about the technical person who enjoys his field of activity and just wants to dig deeper over his/her career? Doesn’t (s)he add value to the corporation too?

The crux of the discussion around the table was that ambition is the norm and that those who do not show clear ambition are suspicious, if not downright guilty of wasting everybody’s time.

Do corporations really want gold diggers managing their workforce? I thought to be a good people manager, one actually had to care about others, not just their status in society. I guess i am just naive…

As long as corporations, especially in cultures with strong need for social recognition, do not redefine the value of the technical tracks of the business, they’ll end up with 90% of their workforce queuing for rare management position openings at the expense of technical innovation and employee engagement. And it won’t automatically mean that the people selected have the right skills to manage people either. Personally, I am not sure this is something that they can gain from in the long term.

What do you think?

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One Response to Are people who do not want management responsibilities suspicious?

  1. Ajay Kaul says:

    Very surprised at the response. We as managers must have the ability to channel the strengths of individuals towards the benefit of the company. There are many individuals who continue to outshine as individual contributors and there are some who are great with leading and managing teams. There has to be a growth path for both kind.

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