I think I have made a big mistake. I have been a manager for about five years. At first I enjoyed the challenge, and I have worked hard to become a really good manager. I get good reviews from my people and excellent performance reviews from my boss.
The problem is, I have realized I really don’t like being a manager. I go from wiping runny noses and managing minor crises at home (I have two young children and a spouse who travels) to talking people off the ledge and putting out brush fires at work.
I really miss the old days of settling in to do focused work that really made an impact. I find myself feeling jealous of my direct reports because they get to do fun work while I am stuck with endless drudgery. It seems as if the only way to make the kind of salary I need is to keep rising in the management ranks, but thinking about that makes me miserable. – Made a Mistake
Dear Made a Mistake
First things first—you haven’t made a mistake. What you have done is explored a pathway and discovered it’s the wrong one for you. The great news is, now you know! At least you’ve figured this out before you feel totally locked in golden handcuffs. So many people work like dogs to climb a ladder only to find that it is up against the wrong wall, and this won’t be happening to you. You have the chance to climb right down that ladder and move it somewhere else before it’s too late. Before you engineer a big change, though, let me suggest a couple of ways where you might not have to throw the baby out with the bathwater.
One possibility is that you simply may be burnt out. You say you enjoyed managing at first, but now you sound fairly well exhausted. Have you taken all of your vacation time? Probably not. The statistics regarding how many vacation days go unused are staggering.
Something else to consider: is it possible that altering your management style a bit could make managing others feel less burdensome? Here are some ideas:
- Learn basic coaching skills so that you can gradually move your people toward solving their own problems instead of running to you every ten minutes.
- Challenge and empower your direct reports to put out the fires they start with little or no input from you.
- Put the responsibility for one-on-one meeting agendas on the other person to allow them to take responsibility for themselves.
- Reserve a couple of plum tasks for yourself so you actually do get to do some of the fun stuff.
If you do a few of these things and find, in fact, that you still don’t like managing people, you will have to give yourself some time to develop and execute a fairly complex plan.
Start by having a conversation about the situation with your manager, who might be willing to suggest ways you can continue to make a substantial contribution to the organization without having to manage others. Perhaps you could score a position that wouldn’t require a big reduction in pay, such as a subject matter expert or technical specialist.
If, though, you learn that you will need to take a serious pay cut to have a job you love, talk with your spouse. Maybe getting by with a smaller salary is more feasible than you think, if you both were to commit to reducing household expenses.
I understand that this large a change could involve some substantial life changes, but the alternative—doing something you dread to support your lifestyle—will take an incalculable toll eventually. The key is to give yourself time to make a change and move toward your goal in small steps. Enlist friends and family members to support you on your journey toward enjoying your days more. It takes a lot of grit to create the life you want—and it will be worth it.
About the author
Madeleine Homan-Blanchard is a master certified coach, author, speaker, and cofounder of Blanchard Coaching Services. Madeleine’s Advice for the Well Intentioned Manager is a regular Saturday feature for a very select group: well intentioned managers. Leadership is hard—and the more you care, the harder it gets. Join us here each week for insight, resources, and conversation.
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