Leadership

A look at ambition: Why do you want to move up in your organization?

Some people want to move into management for the "power." Unless you have a real talent for it, do us all a favor and stay away.

After you've worked in a corporate environment for as long as I have, you start to get the impression that there aren't very many people out here who like doing their actual jobs. There are lots of people who like what they're doing, temporarily, because they're keeping their eyes trained on the rungs of the corporate ladder. But you don't see many who like what they're doing while they're doing it, or at least see the value of the job alone.

It starts to feel like some kind of a Twilight Zone prom where everyone has a date that they settled for, but they're really there to ogle the person they really want to be dating.

Healthy ambition is good. Dreaming of what you want and then taking steps to get there is even better. However, some people don't really have a distinct goal in mind.

Without a distinct goal, a person will expend energy in the wrong ways, like focusing only on high-profile projects or taking shortcuts in the work he's supposed to be doing so he can jockey himself into position.

Wrongly ambitious people usually just want power. Unfortunately, they also equate power with leading or managing other people. [Insert burst of jaded, derisive laughter here.]

Of course, seeking power for power's sake is the wrong reason. You should seek a position in management because you understand your company's business goals, and you have the skills to lead people to make those goals a reality. You should seek a leadership position not because the resulting nameplate on your office door would kick ass, but because you have a talent to lead.

Power, leadership, and a team of direct reports -- they don't make you a more valuable person. They are the results of being a valuable person.

About

Toni Bowers is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and is the award-winning blogger of the Career Management blog. She has edited newsletters, books, and web sites pertaining to software, IT career, and IT management issues.

30 comments
jbenoglob
jbenoglob

Are you kidding me??? That note is just garbage. The best managers do not want the job. The worst managers do anything to get the job. Somehow I am going to get that into a formula and win a Nobel for economics. Nowadays most management is just babysitting, with very little reward for the excruciating headaches, and the added responsibilities, just try a diversity-training course sometime, when you are trying to resolve a complicated algorithm problem. I will take individual contributor position anytime over management. You had better think that over!!!! Politics, reviews, budgets, hr, lack of resources, resources dedicated to worthless projects, and now you get to do the real work and produce some meaning full accomplishments to justify your groups existence. jhj

Reuban
Reuban

Somewhat agree on the first part of the assessment, but not so sure about the second half. Speaking from experience, it can be a bit hard to tell if a person has a distinct goal in mind or not. For some the key goal is several years off, that getting there could have several ladders. So for them, immediate goals are less distinct and more focused on a rung or two up the ladder. Or for others, they just could be multi-faceted and multi-talented that they could choose several paths to become a C-level executive. For example, people will always be people, so people-management opportunities can be taken anywhere as long as it makes career sense. Retrospection later might reveal that some might have been quicker than others. But now, no one could have the luxury of hindsight. So its all about being aware of all your opportunities, all the time, and making the best possible career choice, balancing the need for loyalty and benefits in the value equation. I do think some do want power for power's sake, but they should be distinguished by their ability to delver results for that level given a fair chance, as opposed to those that try to climb the ladder copying others achievements and passing it off as their own without permission or political mandate. Or those that seek to undermine others for their political benefit. These folks should be weeded out at lower to middle management levels, if they even get that far. Another point to consider is a lack of a person's perceived ability at a task may not unnecessarily be the persons fault. There could be political considerations or even long-term planning in the mix where the management practices are more complex. One can only tell by the case in question. So in case my point was missed, its this: The caveat for the following comment "Power, leadership, and a team of direct reports ??? they don???t make you a more valuable person. They are the results of being a valuable person." ...ceteris paribus!! (all things remaining equal)

Jalapeno Bob
Jalapeno Bob

Here is a thought for a future colun: Why to management types, especailly upper management types, always assume that everyone with a college education wants to climb the corporate ladder? That assumption makes them paranoid, and causes waste and staff frustration.

teoiling
teoiling

People get promoted because they licked arse to know someone higher up who decided to help bring that lower level staff up cause it benefits them to have more "like-minded" people around them to push the rest of the employees. Frankly, I've not seen much quality management in Singapore among the locals or the "foreign talents" the government insists on bringing in.

danny.yeoh
danny.yeoh

I am totally agree with the statement post by Toni. But from my point of view this is all relate to the real life situation. What do i mean is how people feel in both "IT Manager" and "IT technical specialist" term. "IT Manager" will be person with high income, have overview idea on what to do but not in detail when hands on. "IT Technical Specialist" will be person implementing or realize all fantastic idea from management or user. But sometimes may lack of overview business growth. Income may also not high as Management. In that kind of senario. For those mid-range skill of IT person will select management as their carreer path rather than techinal specialist where market demand are not so high and required to update skill all the time as IT world change faster than you can imagine.

abeeber
abeeber

In response to the question...For me it was because I thought I could do whats right for the organization, the department and the people in it. My role changed alot as the organization I worked for changed over the years. With each shift in management structure, the distance between technology (HW + SW) increased. As history kept repeating itself I thought I could break the cycle. So when I had the opportunity, I took on managing a larger team than the one I had and frankly burned myself out trying to make things better. In the end, the company started to downsize and I was forced to leave and take a step back. When I did the difference in quality in life was huge and the difference in pay little. For me lessons learned: * never loose touch of your technical skills. * remember most IT professionals have a 1:1000000 chance in becoming a CTO/CIO. So at some point you have to ask if its worth the engery or not to keep climbing or to diversify yourself by doing other things. * With the title comes the stress and long work hours. So what is your RIO for the position and how does it impact your quality of life. * If you don't have signature authority to commit resources (money) then you are just a tech/project lead with more work to do.

jksawdon
jksawdon

I have worked at many companies where the big idea is for everyone to have career opportunities, which means going into leadership and becoming managers. I don't want to be a manager and I would be horrible at it! I have finally started working as a contracted employee where I don't get involved in all the office politics, the oneupmanship, and having to explain why I don't want to be like the managers that are already in the company (the majority who are either looking for the next promotion or waiting to retire and don't care to do a good job). I make a comfortable wage (no I won't get rich - but I don't need to buy more "stuff") and I enjoy spending my time doing the things I want to do instead of having to deal with all the problems that the managers spend most of their time on. I don't see the attraction of having power as it has only aggrivated and frustrated the people I do know as managers and they hate that part of the job (but I always thought that was the job???) Maybe I am just not into having power and as a contracted employee no one really has "power" over me, as I can leave whenever I want to. I know a lot of younger people (20's) who don't want all the responsibility and I think when it comes to management in the future, there won't be as many people to fill the vacancies. Besides, we seem to be becoming a nation of contracted employees and not "real" employees. So who will be the managers of the future?

karen
karen

I have a coworker that a really respect and on most fronts we agree, but when it comes to climbing the corporate ladder, we have two very different views. His view is that you should take any opportunity given to move up and that you should always aspire to move up the corporate structure. I can see the appeal of this point of view, particularly when he points out that passing up one promotion can decrease your chances of being offered another. However, my take is very different. I know I'm not good at managing people and I know I wouldn't enjoy it. So, I plan on following my own path, even if it means I will never get the corner office or the big bucks. I know that if I did get that office, then not only would I be miserable, but those I was managing would not be managed well and it would only be a matter of time before I was removed. Instead, I plan to focus my efforts on what I am good at and work to build my technical skills. Most of the smart companies I have seen offer two professional development tracks and work to give them as equal importance as possible. One track leads to management and the other is often called a "technical" track. The latter helps keep people like me from feeling pressured to manage when we aren't good at it yet still offers us a path to advancement and higher pay, motivating us to keep growing. These people often grow into the technical gurus of a team and are invaluable to a company. I see nothing wrong with saying no to managing and I see a lot wrong with managers who manage only because it is the way to advance. Me, I'm happy in my cube so long as the training opportunities keep coming and I see myself advancing on my own path, in my own way. You can keep the corner office. :)

scorregedor
scorregedor

I couldn't agree more with Mrs Bowers but I must add the thought that everybody have the ambition of earning more and more and more... (to buy and buy and buy...) and the only way to achieve it, is to climb in the company leadder and become the Manager of Managers! I think that the main problem in earning more is directly attached to company recognition therefore salary "recognition". If there was somehow an HR law in the world that forced the companies to increase substantially all salaries regarding the effort vs productivity, antiquity, productivity, ... So, everybody wants to have Power to have Money... Best of best to you all

georgia.glover
georgia.glover

Highly recommend www.manager-tools.com for real, actionable steps to becoming a great manager.

jdclyde
jdclyde

and goes with the fancy house and car. We have been told that to be a success, you have to keep moving up, do more, make more, be more. I have known good techs that got canned because they took a management position. They were good techs, but horrible managers. I would move into management if I could be a working manager that is part of the team, but not if it meant giving up the hands-on. Spent to many years playing with all the cool toys to give it up now. Yeah, and looking to sell my house and get something smaller to. Guess I haven't bought into the mindset, huh? Want less, appreciate more.

valerie.delahouliere
valerie.delahouliere

While I agree with everything that Ms. Bowers states in her article (and I mean everything), I still must wonder how 1) people recognise themselves as IT leader/managers and 2) modern corporations can ensure that they recruit profiles that are strong leaders/managers given the combined factors of office politics, "copinage", recruitment policies, and false project success stories. I don't want to sound cynical, but one might feel they are a leader, convince management that they are a leader, and in reality, they have no peer recognition as a leader and therefore, have no influence on what/how/when the work gets done. Short of a 360 or aptitude profiling(which for some corporations is too expensive), it is next to impossible to know who can really lead, motivate or manage.

Reuban
Reuban

I think your quite correct in your views. Not everyone likes managing people and technical management is an important leadership role. Noted your friends view, "passing up one promotion can decrease your chances of being offered another" and wasn't sure if I agree or even understand it. Why did he or even you think so, considering you agreed with the appeal of its logic. A person might decline at a point in time due to various factors; not being ready, perception of stretch required being too much, or politics. I don't think any of those factors should impede another promotion providing the reasons why the person was initially considered for promotion still hold true or is even better. But maybe I'm being a bit ignorant here.

highlander718
highlander718

very well said ! There are those who want to manage and are good at it, those who want to manage but are not good at it, those who don't want to manage but ar forced to do it and those that are happy without neccessarely managing. I went through the management experience for 6 years, true it was a small team. As far as I know everybody was happy. Things changed though after my first child was born, I did not appreciate the long hours, night calls and stress that much anymore. Maybe it is age too :-). I thought about it, and taking advantage of a relocation I picked the part that really interest me and I can say I feel much better. It worth it 100 tinmes !

srawcliffe
srawcliffe

You've put into words what I've been feeling for many years. I'm a specialist who'd like to progress in terms of responsibility and, if I'm honest, salary ... but who regards the stress of management as too high a price to pay. If more people felt/acted like you, we wouldn't be stuck with so many pointy-haired bosses ;-)

srawcliffe
srawcliffe

You've put into words what I've been feeling for many years. I'm a specialist who'd like to progress in terms of responsibility and, if I'm honest, salary ... but who regards the stress of management as too high a price to pay. If more people felt/acted like you, we wouldn't be stuck with so many pointy-haired bosses ;-)

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

"...everybody have the ambition of earning more ..." Not everybody. I'm quite happy with my current job and have absolutely no desire to climb the ladder at all. While I'd like to make more money, I don't feel it's worth the exchanging my enjoyable technology-oriented duties for the hassles of managerial responsibilities.

stewart.watson
stewart.watson

In 25 years of careers in technology based roles I dont think the main driver is 'power' - I think it is earning ability. That's what satisifies our basic Maslow urges for security - money. I have only worked in one (of 5) where capability was rewarded independently of management rank - with a professional engineering career stream. But even that fell by the way side. I believe this is one of the key reasons why contracting has grown amongst IT professionals - as an opportunity to be rewarded for your skills.

jmgarvin
jmgarvin

I love the profile pic btw... You're dead on...moving up does not me success, success is how well you do in your jorb!!

The 'G-Man.'
The 'G-Man.'

that people have been conditioned with. Either way you look at it both are at extreme ends of the specturm. What about a middle ground here?

richard.wilson
richard.wilson

Are part of the reason I feel the IT industry as a whole is going the way of the "Geek Squad". There isn't enough scrutiny and background checking going on these days to verify all the "great things" people say they can do or have done. On a resume, one can put: "At my previous job, I completely changed and redesigned the way our 2000 node network ran." When all they really did was install a new switch. (this is an actual statement on an actual resume taken from a colleague of mine..in all honesty, the guy knows jack about networking) This is what I am talking about. People getting into positions they claim they are qualified for just because they can talk a good talk, leaving us more qualified people in the cold looking like a$$es for constantly saying, "I know tons more than that guy. How did he get his position?" Anyway, I'll get off my soapbox. I just needed to vent I guess. Thanks for listening....

karen
karen

I have seen this happen, but I wonder if maybe it's more prevalent in a smaller business where saying "no" to a promotion can be seen as being unwilling to do what others see as best for the company or being "moldable" into what the company sees it needs.

highlander718
highlander718

I also disagree with the statemet that all people want more and more. Some do, maybe a majority do due to a stupid "look at the Johneses" type of culture. I also think I was a little bit like that in my first 5-7 years of career. Maybe it is easy to speak once you sort of earned enough (no, I'm not a millionaire :-)) but I think it is more related with needing as much as you have and having as much as you need. This is everybody's choice at the end of the day (I'm talking specifically about the IT filed in developed countries - this of course cannot apply to the folks starving in Darfur or fighting for their lifes in other parts). I don't feel I need a Ferrari or a 36 room mansion to be happy.

The 'G-Man.'
The 'G-Man.'

You state in your post: "While I'd like to make more money" yet claim "...everybody have the ambition of earning more ..." is incorrect.

toni.bowers_b
toni.bowers_b

Sometimes I just want to laugh at the people who think the title "manager" is some kind of validation of their personal quality. Those are the people who are usually blindsided by those "management responsibilities."

juliebeman
juliebeman

I am also happy with the work that I do (and even the money that I make). I've never been a careerist. I want to do the best work I can in an environment I enjoy. What's most important to me is my family, gardening, reading, indulging my writing avocation...

The 'G-Man.'
The 'G-Man.'

Communication skills are vital to 'move up'. If you do not have these then you are out of the picture from day 1. What is the point in knowing all this information if you can not even articulate it to others (both tech & non tech)?

Reuban
Reuban

Your right, I can see some sense in that if the business is reasonably small.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

Some quick web definitions for ambition: # a cherished desire; # a strong drive for success # the object of desire and effort; a goal. I have no cherished desire for more money. It would just be kinda nice, like if my car was clean. It won't be, because like more money, I view the effort as not worth the benefits gained. There's a difference between casually wanting something and making the sacrifices to achieve it. I don't know about a 'strong desire for success'. I certainly don't have a strong desire to advance up the corporate ladder. Maybe my happiness in my current position is a definition of success. I don't view advancement as a goal worthy of desire or effort. As I've said, I'm happy where I am.

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