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Leadership: Being a boss is not for everyone
by Wally Bock

Susan is an employer's dream. She's got great analytical skills and a super work ethic. Her work as a marketing analyst was stellar. That's why her boss promoted her to team leader. At first, she was happy about it.

It took a day or so before the glow disappeared. "I didn't know I'd have all these people coming in and whining to me," she says. "Why can't they just do their jobs?"

Susan wasn't an employer's dream any more. She was a great individual contributor who'd been turned into an unhappy and unfit boss with a wave of the promotional wand.

It happens a lot. In far too many companies, the only way to move up is to become a boss. The only way to make significantly more money is to become a boss.

The result is that thousands of great individual contributors every year choose to become a boss without any thought about whether it's the right choice. They don't know if they want to do the work of a boss. They don't know if they'll be any good at it.

They do it because they see themselves with no other career options. The result is a lot of awful bosses.

Most of them make the choice to become a boss with very little knowledge about what the actual job is. Susan was like that.

Susan didn't understand that when she became a team leader her evaluation depended on how well the team members did their jobs. That made her very uncomfortable.

Susan didn't understand that part of her job as a team leader was to help the individual team members succeed. So when they came in "whining" she didn't see it as an opportunity to have a Supervisory Conversation about what could be done differently.

Susan didn't understand that part of her job was to talk to people about their behavior and performance. She was brought up to be very polite and indirect and she found it massively uncomfortable to confront someone about something as simple as coming in late.

Susan was a good decision maker. Once she made a decision, she followed through. But as a boss she found that she had to make decisions for others and then follow up to see if they were executing.

What happened to Susan happens to thousands of people every year. She chose to become a boss as a way of moving up in the company. It was an uninformed and bad choice.

It was uninformed because her company didn't review with her what her actual work would be. There was discussion of what goals needed to be met and what compensation would be, but not a word about what the work was going to be like every day.

It was a bad choice for Susan. She wound up in a job that she had neither aptitude nor appetite for.

It was a bad choice for her company. Instead of a highly productive individual contributor with high morale, they got an unhappy and ineffective team leader.

Fortunately for the company and for Susan, this all turned out OK. Susan went to her boss and laid out the situation. The boss understood that keeping Susan as a team leader was a bad idea.

So, Susan wound up back in her marketing analyst job where she continued to excel. About a year after the "promotion" incident, she moved up to a senior analyst position.

Susan was lucky. She was lucky because she worked for a boss who understood the wisdom of undoing a bad promotion decision. In many companies she would not have been allowed to return to the individual contributor ranks or if she did it would be a career ending move.

Susan was also lucky because she works for a company that has a full range of jobs that fit her skills. Many of them pay a lot more and carry impressive titles. It's not a formal career path, but it might as well be.

Susan was very lucky to find out that being a boss was not for her early in her career. Whenever she's tempted to become a boss, she can remember all those "whiners" coming in to her office. And she can keep on enthusiastically producing great work.

Wally Bock may be contacted at

Wally Bock helps organizations improve productivity and morale by selecting and developing great leaders at all levels. He coaches individual managers, and is a popular speaker at meetings and conferences in the US and elsewhere. This article first appeared in the Three Star Leadership Blog ( ). Check out Wally's Working Supervisor's Support Kit ( ).



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