From the beginning of her career, says Susan, 49, people have been trying to push her into management.
She understood why: She gets along well with others, has an eye for spotting talent and has a gift for negotiation.
But she turned them down flat.
"Everyone -- family, friends, employers, romantic interests, fellow commuters from the bus stop -- thought I was making a terrible mistake every time I turned down one of these invitations," said Susan, a Web designer in Maryland who spoke on condition that her last name not be printed.
Her reasons aren't complicated. "I'm not good at managing people," she said. "Liking and managing are two different things. Basically, I simply couldn't care less whether people do their work or not. Either way, I don't want to be responsible for them."
The lengthy hours required to climb the corporate ladder held no appeal for her. "One of the few times I accepted a salaried 'executive' position, I sat down after three months that I remember mainly as a blur of fatigue and divided the number of hours I'd worked into a salary that had seemed princely when offered. It came out to slightly less than minimum wage."
It wasn't just the hours, though, she said. "I don't like corporate politics, 'motivational strategies,' staff retreats, 'teams' (don't ask -- I'm still bitter), official strategies, unofficial agendas, power struggles, or any number of other trappings of upper echelon life. Irrelevant meetings hold a special place on my list of things to avoid," she wrote in a recent e-mail.
She now works as an independent contractor, which she says suits her well. "I do my work, I meet my deadlines, and I charge so much to attend meetings that nobody invites me to unnecessary ones."
That kind of self-awareness isn't universal, said Malcolm O. Munro, president of ETP Consulting in Germantown. "There are far too many people in management who don't belong there," he said.
Munro, who teaches classes on management, said a lot of folks become bosses without knowing what it's really about. It involves more than meeting budgets and making deadlines, he said. "It's about being able to guide people."
No matter how good you are at your job, "it's not the logical progression, it's not the natural step," he warned.
Much of the blame for all these out-of-place managers, however, lies squarely with their organizations. Often people are moved into management based on the quality of their technical skills, with no training in the diplomatic touch management requires. Many people who are perfectly happy with the jobs they have feel compelled to move into management because it's the only way to get more money or job security. These reasons, while understandable, don't always lead to the best leaders for an organization.
If a young worker is feeling unsure about whether to accept a promotion into management, he or she should carefully consider the source of those doubts, said Jennifer B. Kahnweiler, a career consultant in Atlanta. Don't let fear hold you back, she said, but it's perfectly okay to consider the impact the promotion will have on work-life balance. "When you move up, you often sacrifice that leisure time."
The most important question to ask -- beyond those about your own temperament -- is what kind of training and support you can expect. A good mentor can help the new manager gain skills and confidence, Kahnweiler said.
And yet, turning down a promotion might very well require the most confidence of all.
Susan, the contractor, said she has no real regrets about the promotions she passed up. "Do I occasionally daydream about big mansions and owning a boat and summering on the Vineyard? Sure. I'm only human. But for me, the price would have been too high in my personal life. The chief thing I'm proud of in my career is knowing who I was, and sparing myself and everybody else a lot of grief by staying as true to that as possible."
Is your boss really great at offering constructive criticism? Or really horrible? How do you handle it? If you're willing to share your experience for a column on the subject, e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Join Mary Ellen Slayter at 2 p.m. Aug. 5 for Career Track Live, an online discussion of issues affecting young workers, at www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/liveonline/jobs/careertrack.