Not Everyone Wants to Be a Leader

As you groom employees for leadership positions, as you send them to classes and seminars, as you develop career plans for them with increasingly responsible positions, there is one point that is easy to overlook:

Not everyone wants to be a leader.

That is sometimes hard for people in leadership positions to understand, but it’s true. Some people simply do not want the hassles that go along with greater responsibility. A lot of people prefer to stay within their technical specialty, doing what they enjoy, and they know they will have to give up some or all of that if they become leaders. This is especially true for Creatives, who often have a real passion for their creative work and are afraid they will miss out on that if they have to start running things, but you can see it everywhere. As an Air Force office I had plenty of friends who were pilots who wanted to spend their career in the cockpit rather than as a unit commander. A software development friend of mine, when asked by his manager “where do you see yourself in 5 years?,” answered “Not doing your job, that’s for sure.” Not everyone is looking to move into leadership.

So, before you start identifying employees for future leadership roles, see if it’s what they really want to do. Make time to have this conversation with them, then give them some time to think about it. They need to make a decision about what “track” they want to pursue, whether staying purely creative/technical/functional, or shifting to leadership. Make sure they understand the implications of that decision; for example, we tend to pay people more when they take on responsibility for more than just their own work, so if they stay on a totally “individual contributor” career path they may not make as much. Also, while this decision might not be irreversible, they need to understand that if in the future they want to change and work toward a leadership position, there will have to compete for it…it will not be automatic just because they have been with the company a long time.

Just because someone is not up for being a leader does not make them a bad employee, or un-ambitious. There is a lot to be said for being an expert in your field and focusing all of your attention on that. You need people who are great at what they do, and passionate about it. Also, no one wants to work for a leader who doesn’t want to be a leader. Not everyone can be a leader anyway, so if you have some employees who want to do that, and others who want to stay focused on their specialty, then you really have all your bases covered. Do not try to push people into leadership if it is not what they want.

One Response so far.

  1. […] try to have a good idea of what they are capable of doing (and, as we discussed the other day, make sure they want the promotion). Look for potential for the next job, not just great work in the current one. Remember, if you […]

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