Today, I had a short conversation with a colleague about how a “normal” career path can force us to do something we don’t want. To be more specific, we spoke about the possibility for a person to decide if she/he wants to become an expert or if she/he wants to become a leader/manager.
The regular career path often looks like that. You start, and you become an expert in what you are doing. If you are doing your job well, you will be promoted. With this promotion comes more responsibility and sooner or later the task of leading and managing a team/project.
I think it is a bit counterintuitive to expect that someone who is good at doing her/his job will be equally qualified to lead a team or manage a project. Especially when there is no training involved to prepare that person for the new role. Moreover, I know that some people don’t want to do this. Maybe they are very good at programming and all they want is to become an expert and program all day. Now, in a regular career path, those people will HAVE TO manage and lead at one point in time.
Now they face a difficult decision. Do they decline a promotion to be able to do what they love and don’t get the reward for their good job (in sense of a higher salary or more resources) or do they opt for the promotion but won’t spend their days doing what they love?
Why do they have to make that decision in the first place?
That is why I would go for a different approach. Why not let the employee decide their future goals? Then, you will create a leadership track and an expert track. Sure, both would start the same way for the first 1-2 years, because it is important also for a leader/manager to know what she/he is talking about. After a while, those who chose the leadership track, would get more tasks which will qualify them to lead and manage.
Those who want to become/remain an expert can do that, too. The important thing is that both would have a similar salary and reward structure. This would acknowledge the value of experts and give them the opportunity to grow and stay motivated. Furthermore, those who know that they rather lead and manage could do so.
Maybe this could also lead to flatter perceived hierarchy structures. Only because I am your leader doesn’t mean that I know more than you. Often it is the other way around. We could be on the same level, earn the same, but I manage and lead, and you are the expert. Therefore, we would meet each other on the same level. It would also take the pressure from leaders/managers who think they always need to know everything.
And honestly, you don’t want some people to become your leader because they are just not good in dealing with other people. I think such a system could have a lot of benefits for everyone involved.
What do you think? Do I miss something?
Take care, Stephan