In our "get-ahead" society, the bright young man or woman is expected to want to become the boss. The status is higher, the visibility better, and the rewards greater than in most other positions in the organization. So neophytes are urged to set their sights on becoming executives or managers, near if not at the top.
There are several things wrong with this kind of objective. First, the matter of fit: Some people don't enjoy supervising others and some won't easily master the skills required. There is also the little matter of there not being enough of these jobs to go around.
Striving for the top of the pyramid is all right for those who like it, and there are many. But there are others who get pushed into situations they don't like, don't need and don't do well in. Many never examine the alternatives to chain-of-command assignments or fail to explore the costs of such a route. Such as: Do I Like the Work?
The manager has to get things done by others. Supervising was never easy but it has probably become more difficult today. In addition to the complexities we all face, there is a continuing short-fall in resources--coupled with an increasing demand for them--and a reluctance on the part of subordinates to accept direction as textbooks have indicated they should.
The manager, if nothing else, is someone who must have things happen. The manager, says Harlan Cleveland, director of the University of Minnesota's Hubert Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs, is a "tension maker." For many people, this is not a pleasant assignment.
The manager must make decisions, be sure they stick and live with the result. This looks easier than it is. The easy decisions come already made. It is the tough ones that occupy so much time. One must know when the decision is better made by someone else--higher up, lower down, or farther out--and when it is one's own.
Harry Truman said that in making decisions, he studied the matter as fully as he could and then decided. After that he slept well. Most of us don't have such a capability.
The higher up managers get, the more they are prisoners of time. Says Harold Geneen, a long-time president of ITT: "The first requirement of a senior executive is instant availability. He must put his firm above his family; he must be prepared to go anywhere at any time, or simply to wait around in case he is needed."
While this is not so true of lesser executives, they must be prepared to make personal sacrifices whenever the organization calls. It calls frequently.
The responsible manager will often have to tell people to do the things they don't like to do, or don't do well. Anyone reluctant to do this will try to find excuses for not doing it. Harvard University Prof. David McClelland made the point in a Psychology Today article entitled, "Good Guys Make Bad Bosses." If one has to be liked, being boss is not the job.
There is also the matter of getting and holding onto a position, and after that of moving up the ladder. The "upward mobiles," whether they like it or not, are often forced into playing office politics and spending time in "internal PR." Knowing who to attach one's self to, or who not to offend, takes time away from the job for an essentially non-productive effort. For the conscientious, this can be particularly troubling.
Finally, one must face the fact that only a few really make it to the top. The salaries the losers may keep--if they are lucky--do not compensate for the disappointments of those who failed, who came in second or tenth, who are retired before their time, or who suffer the ignominy of being given jobs with little or nothing to do. Their numbers are great. Dr. Laurence Peter developed "The Peter Principle" around those who have risen beyond the limit of their capabilities.
The game may not be worth the candle. Also, there are other options.Alternatives to Being Boss
While most of us are involved with managing--time, money, information--we do not have to be the boss to do it well.
There are many professional lines of work which do not involve directing others. The Dictionary of Occupational Titles lists thousands. One can be an attorney without becoming senior partner or chief counsel; a professor without being a dean; a reporter without needing to be managing editor.
An "adviser-to" job is often for an expert who can focus on a specialty without having to manage others. They may not be available in great numbers, but there are jobs in sales, planning, research, investigation, teaching, training, jobs calling for creativity, imagination, exploration. Many of these jobs are their own reward, requiring a minimum of supervision of others.
Once upon a time the chain of command was the only career line open. Those who wanted to get ahead took on a supervisory job because it was the only way up. This is no longer true.
Those in search of careers would do well to examine their own likes and dislikes, their values and objectives, along with their strengths and weaknesses, and set their course accordingly.
Being a boss isn't all bliss and, besides, it may not be for you.