If you aspire to a leadership position, I challenge you to consider what you desire personally and professionally from your career. I will talk in terms of a software company because that’s my career focus, but this principle applies across all companies. What is the motivation for your aspiration? I often hear folks confuse the aspiration for providing influence with the need or desire to manage a large team.
Influence in this context applies to having significant impact on a technology organization by being a part of delivering new product, processes and technologies. Frequently as a talented engineer progresses through their career, they reach a point where becoming a manager is an option. They view this as the only way to gain fame, fortune and yes, influence. The person does not understand that influence is at the crux of their goal. Because they don’t see this, they go down the path of being a people manager.
Don’t get me wrong, being a people manager is a noble and critical role inside of an organization. Managing smart people is hard. It requires vigilance, training, education and passion. Great managers are why people stay at companies. Poor managers are why people leave companies. That’s why this is such an important career decision. When a superstar associate steps into the management track for the wrong reasons, they begin to suffer personally and professionally.
Many times the right career decision is obvious if the culture of the organization understands and supports this dynamic. Does the corporate culture respect all individuals, regardless of their career path? Do senior level designers and engineers get compensated equivalent to senior level managers? In my experience, I've seen the non-manager individual superstars receive higher compensation than the manager. Don’t choose your career direction based on compensation, or how many people you will manage. If you’re awesome, you will be a well compensated influencer.
I encourage you to take the time to think about your aspirations. You want to provide influence. You want to make money. You want notoriety. How do you want to get there? Every day that you spend in your life, you want to do what you enjoy. If you enjoy managing people and all of the associated requirements, you will have a fantastic and fulfilling career. If you want to make a difference by influencing people inside and outside of your organization, then focus on that. It does not require you to have a big team and corner office.