Only about a third of people seemingly want to be managers

CareerBuilder did a survey — it’s also summarized on Harvard Business Review — where they sampled 3,625 workers in different industries, different pay ranges, etc. — and asked them about their desire to eventually become a manager. Only 34 percent (a little over one-third) wanted to, with only 7 percent (less than 1 in 10) saying they had aspirations to the C-Suite. 

52 percent of people in the survey (the largest number) used the line “I’m content with the role I have” as the reason they didn’t want to become a manager; 34 percent were concerned with potentially longer hours and less of a work-life balance.

These numbers aren’t incredibly surprising. Consider some of these facts:

Now, managing — especially in the modern environment — is a challenge. You inherently have to base the needs of the organization against the needs of the individual, which can be challenging (and create conflict).

Also — and I sometimes think this is a bigger point — most people end up getting promoted because they are good at managing processes. Processes and people are very different; a process is established and, once it is, it doesn’t have feelings. It just operates and is periodically tweaked. People have feelings and families and dentist appointments and all the rest.

I’ve seen this at a couple of companies, and I think it should become more normative: there should be an “individual contributor” track and a “manager” track. Most people, I’d reckon, become managers because they want the money that often comes with rising up and having to manage others. But what if you could have this “IC” track and you could let an individual make the same as “IC” as he/she would if they were a manager?

Now, if you look at this CareerBuilder study, only about 1 in 3 people would be opting for the manager track — most would be going IC, especially if they could make the same money. IC wouldn’t mean you work in a bubble; you’d still have to work with teams, you just wouldn’t have the functionality of managing the team. Hopefully in a system like this, the people with empathy and curiosity — those who probably should be managers of others — would actually become managers. That might be a pipe dream, but it’s a hopeful one at least.

Check out this context, too, from the study:

  • 67 percent of those 18-24 aspired to leadership.
  • 52 percent of the 25-34 block.
  • 37 percent of the 35-44 block.

This can definitely end the “millennials are lazy and entitled” debate at one level (I got in trouble for that yesterday), but this is interesting: the longer people work, they become less and less interested in being managers. Across six-eight year spans, it drops by almost 1/5th — and this is as people are approaching their “peak earning” years, yet they still have no interest in becoming managers. Kind of odd in some ways, right?

As that video alludes to, there’s also a big difference in simple vocabulary: a “manager” and a “leader” imply different things. A manager, by definition, manages the work that others do; that is transactional in nature, by default. A leader attempts to lead the work of others; that’s more of a big-picture focus, at least on face. You can be a good manager and not be a good leader, and you can be a good leader and would be horrible as a manager (because you’re an idea guy or whatever, and that would frustrate the people reporting to you). People confuse those two concepts — manager and leader — about as much as they confuse “value” and “price,” which are never / have never been the same thing.

Ted Bauer