Many a company founder has gladly relinquished the title of President or CEO to be a Chairman or a CTO or simply, a founder. What these individuals had in common was a love for innovation and for the ability to keep innovating and doing. They didn't see the daily life of company administration, or interacting with boards, stakeholders and analysts, as particularly satisfying—nor did they want to be managing projects or product launches. However, because of their ability to innovate and create, they enjoyed rewarding and highly lucrative careers.
The bottom line? You don't have to be in management to succeed in business.
These words continue to hold true even if you are not a skilled innovator, but are instead highly skilled in a discipline that your company regards as critical to its success. In the IT world, for example, there are data architects and scientists who start as new hires with six-figure salaries. There is similar recognition for the finely honed skills of engineers, application developers, and security analysts.
That's important to know because business schools and companies continue to instill the idea that the path to success and monetary gain is through management. This is the ideology that compels those who are technically gifted to try to remake themselves so they can fit into positions that do not naturally line up with their talents. On the flip side, it is also the impetus behind the conversations that go on in technical expert cubicles about management spending time away at seminars so it can practice buzzwords.
The reality is that management and technical expert positions can be mutually exclusive because they require different skillsets. Managers, if they concentrate on technical problem solving, will neglect the most important parts of their jobs, like keeping their departments running, delivering on key business strategies, and ensuring funding so those strategies can be carried out. Technical experts and innovators deliver the value of what a department or a company offers through their genius and technology skills.
There are still companies and individuals who do not understand the importance of this dual-pronged approach to work. The refreshing news is that more organizations are starting to understand this idea. The way that they are showing it is by creating dual promotion ladders—one for management and one for technical contributors. Salaries between the two are commensurate.
This gives innovators and technical geniuses a career path, and it enables them to follow their natural bent—knowing that they can also obtain stock options, bonuses, high salaries, and corporate recognition.
Most importantly, it enables these individuals to be themselves—and to shine at what they do best.
The takeaways if you are a technical innovator or expert with absolutely no desire to manage people, politics, or budgets are to:
- Develop your technical skillsets and/or talents in a particular area of need.
- Find (or create) an organization that respects these skills and that will reward reward them.
- Be the best at what you do.
Several years ago, I had lunch with a IT acquaintance who had been a database and application innovator for years, but who was routinely passed over whenever a management position came up. In his mid-forties, he realized that he would likely never advance in the company—which he felt had to be done by getting into management. One year later, he had gotten together with a few other highly developed techie friends and had founded his own company. Now in his core zone of excellence, he was abundantly happy, except for one thing—company growth now demanded that he had to hire a manager—which he was more than happy to do.
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Mary E. Shacklett is president of Transworld Data, a technology research and market development firm. Prior to founding the company, Mary was Senior Vice President of Marketing and Technology at TCCU, Inc., a financial services firm; Vice President of Product Research and Software Development for Summit Information Systems, a computer software company; and Vice President of Strategic Planning and Technology at FSI International, a multinational manufacturing company in the semiconductor industry. Mary is a keynote speaker and has more than 1,000 articles, research studies, and technology publications in print.