We’ve all heard the standard bits of wisdom about making a career choice – do what you are passionate about, pick a field that has a future of growth and advancement, look for a career that can tolerate your evolving lifestyle preferences ranging from location to marriage and family – and the like. But is that how it really works? And are we giving that advice because it worked for us, or because we are unhappy ourselves and trying to figure out where we went wrong?
There are probably professionals who have never really looked back – doctors, psychologists, scientists, lawyers. Perhaps particular types of work have a number of people in this category – pilots or sailors, certain types of craft or outdoor work. Very likely many athletes, artists, and musicians can make this claim, as well.
But what about the rest of us, who are involved one way or another in management? Did we choose to become managers? Was that our ambition when we joined the workforce – to enter management immediately or ultimately, and then to see how far we could go? After all, many young people seek out MBA degrees not because they have a burning desire to work in household products or insurance. What they want is to be the CEO. Somewhere.
How about those of us who never really set out to be managers, but who early on were captured morally and intellectually by the excitement and challenges of a particular endeavor? We love engineering or agriculture, perhaps. And as time goes on we are called upon to teach others to do what we so enjoy doing. Eventually, we find ourselves managing them, as well.
There are at least two more ways we can become accidental managers: We can enter a particular business because it was what happened to have generally acceptable employment at a key moment in our lives. Over time, we find that we have simply accommodated ourselves to it. Sometimes that sticks, and sometimes it begins to unravel as soon as we realize it has happened.
On the other hand, many of us never really make a choice at all – we do what we do because it has always been in the cards, or in the air. We take our places in the business our parents built, follow along in work traditionally undertaken by members of our family, or just slip into the calling that our relatives – or even just our neighbors – decided was right for us since we were young. We are generally skilled and clever people, so we wind up in management.
What are the implications of all of this? How are our workplaces affected by highly motivated and trained managers who have never had any particular interest in the industry, or the many others who genuinely loved to do the work but unconsciously resent being distanced from it as administrators? Then there are the great number of managers – the very heart, the mainstay, of our businesses – who were never particularly dedicated to either the field or to management itself.
How do we deal with these diverse accumulations of coincidental, calculated, and confused career choices? What is the meaning to our businesses of having managers who are a mixture of these motivations? How might such managers go about marshalling and directing the energies of junior managers and employees who are themselves at varying points on the road to comprehending and reconciling their evolving hopes and their congealing alternatives?
Where does all the rhapsodic rhetoric about inspiration and empowerment fit in here? What do we tell ourselves and others about why we are at work? What material or moral reward do we seek to take from it? What contributions do we struggle to make to our corporations or our colleagues? How do we manage these questions, so that we can be better managers?
We’ll start looking at that next week, and hope you will join us. Tomorrow we’ll see another review of an interesting book by an always productively provocative author – see you then!
This post is a part of a series. You can learn about and link to the other articles here: Managing life, work, and life at work
Today’s tips: Speaking of multi-motivated workforces, how about making them multi-task to boot? Please see this Business Week piece by Bruce Weinstein about the ethics of this practice.
We talked Tuesday about the concept of emotional intelligence, and reviewed Martyn Newman’s book focusing on how to learn to use it effectively as a manager. Please see this Management-Issues article by Dan Bobinski about how difficult that can be – and thus all the more important.
And speaking of the mixed motivations of managers at various levels and those they manage, please take a moment to see this real-life story that has always stayed with Dwayne Melancon at Genuine Curiosity. What would you have done? What would you do now?
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