Don't Always Lead: Sometimes Just Be Great

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What is the measurement of a good career? Promotion? Raises? Running a project / leading a team? Usually all of this. However, the most traditional measurement of success in a career is moving upward. Time to run a department, time to lead a team, etc. However, I submit a very radical idea: Sometimes just be great, don’t lead.

What does this mean? Well so often, we see great engineers get promoted to be our ‘boss.’ However, when this happens, suddenly the department starts to slip, success is lost, and this engineer isn’t as happy as he used to be. Sometimes it’s ok to just be great at your job. Know that being the number one resource, the go-to for your skill, is good enough. If your goal is seniority, demand it for your position. If your desire is more money, demand it. Sometimes we think that getting to a leadership position is the only way to gain. I would suggest to really look at this before you try to achieve it.

When you become a leader or a ‘manager,’ your responsibilities will change. Remember that exciting feeling when you solved a problem? You programmed a solution and it worked the first time!? This is something you won’t experience as often as a leader. Instead, your goals will be bottom line, juggling numbers, and dealing with people. How do you keep your department inspired and on track?

Let me break it down very frankly. There are two things to consider. First, if you want more money, ask for it. Keep doing what you’re so good at, demonstrate and document your value, and ask for it. Don’t take a promotion if that’s truly not what you want. A promotion generally means not necessarily more responsibility but different responsibility. Do you want this? Be honest with yourself. If you really don’t (maybe you don’t like being in front of people, you like taking responsibility for yourself only instead of a team you had little hand in with the end result, etc), don’t do it. There are other opportunities and different jobs. There is always a different company that has the same needs as you’re filling right now, but they’re bigger and more scaled. That will translate into more money.

Second, are you willing to give up the thrill of the chase of programming and making and trade that in for the successful balancing of numbers and managing of people? Be honest with yourself. When you enter a room, do people congregate to you - or do you wait to be introduced? A manager(leader) needs to have these people skills. In addition, you need to be able to take responsibility for all the negatives for your team, but disseminate all the accolades. Can you do this? If not, just continue to be great, don’t lead.

So, I would say again my idea: Sometimes just be great - don’t strive to lead. You may find that you cause more harm than good, and you become unhappy. Instead, take pride in being the best you can be at that skill you’ve already mastered. Just be great.

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