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What If You Don't Want To Be A Manager?

A person holding a bag and walking barefoot in a field.

Promotions and management are usually seen as natural and desired outcomes of working hard and moving up. But just because you’re good at something doesn’t necessarily mean you’re keen to manage other people who do it. If you’re offered a management position you’re not excited about, explore these ways to gracefully eschew it.

If you want to stay with your organization

If you like where you work, consider these angles for staying with your organization in a capacity you like.

  • Be honest with your boss

Jason Seiden, CEO of Ajax Workforce Marketing, puts it this way: “Think about how you would feel if you asked someone to marry you—and the person said ‘no’ or ‘let me think about it. It’s not exactly what you want to hear.” In order to keep everyone’s spirits high (and decrease the possibility that a sour attitude about the offer will harm your professional standing), communicate your gratitude to your boss for the offer before anything else. Then, with the same happy face on, you can start steering the conversation toward other avenues, like:

  • How much you love your current job and want to keep it
  • You’re very flattered by the offer but don’t think you’re the best person for the role
  • Explaining your career path, and how the promotion doesn’t really fit in

Whatever you decide to say, include an offer to help identify someone else who would be good for the job (whether internally or by helping with hiring from outside). It’s a nice gesture, and will show you care about the future of the organization.

Get more tips on how to gracefully turn down a promotion from Forbes.

  • Pitch a different type of promotion

You’ve probably been tapped for a promotion to management because your employer sees qualities in you that all good managers possess: you’re motivated, organized, empathetic, and so on. But those qualities can be put to good use in many types of higher-level jobs, so if management isn’t the one for you, think about pitching a different kind of promotion to your boss.

Selina Lo, CEO of Ruckus Wireless, has this to say about leadership versus management: “A leader is someone who carries the flag... somebody people want to follow. A manager is someone who says: ‘O.K., in order to do this, I need 15 people...’ They get the people, and they build the team.” If you’re a good leader, but you don’t want to manage, ask your boss if you could become the “senior” version of your title instead—a person who might take on more strategic thinking or lead more complex projects in your department, but who isn’t responsible for dealing with other employees’ annual reviews or the team’s budget. Remember that, if you were offered a promotion, you know your boss wants to retain you, so use that leverage and explain that an arrangement like this will add value to the organization without taking the risk that you’ll be unhappy and burn out.

If you want to strike out on your own

Maybe the ego boost of being offered a management position has gotten you thinking that you have what it takes to quit your day job and start full-time freelancing, consulting, or heading up your own org, and of course, you just might be right. For Rosetta Thurman, Founder and Principal of Thurman Consulting, making the leap from full-time employee to consultant required her to do quite a bit of financial planning:

In January 2010, I began working for myself full-time. Since then, I’ve experienced all the freedom and fear that comes with being self-employed. What helped was that before I even submitted my resignation letter, I had already secured two contracts that provided a guaranteed stream of work for a defined amount of time. When I left my job, I had one six-month contract and one 12-month contract. Financially, I was pretty set for my first year. Those initial contracts drastically reduced the monetary risk of self-employment. With the help of my existing network of colleagues and the personal brand I had built online through my blog, my business continued to grow from there.

Eleanor Whitney, Program Officer at the New York Foundation for the Arts, published Grow: How to Take Your Do It Yourself Project Passion to the Next Level and Quit Your Job! to help people cultivate their side passions. Read her advice on how you can begin side projects that bring in additional income.

If you are seriously considering going solo, you can never do too much research. This post on Social Hire breaks down the major pros and cons.

Your next steps

There’s much to think about when you’re faced with deciding whether or not to accept a promotion to management. There are plenty of resources out there for people who want to become good managers, but not so many for those who decide to take another road. Here are a few good articles we found that focus on the latter:

  • Forbes gives you ten questions to consider before you accept or turn down a promotion.
  • Anne Kreamer’s great post for the Harvard Business Review explains why management isn’t for everybody, and what employers could gain by stepping out of their old management paradigms.
  • If you’ve accepted a promotion to a management position and aren’t happy, Fortune’s Anne Fisher can reassure you that you’re not alone and offer tips for making the best of the situation.

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By April Greene

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