Where have all the wanna-be leaders gone?

Posted September 10, 2009 in Career Management, Latest News & Insights

An employee survey by Randstad (results of which were published in the Globe and Mail earlier this week) claim that 51% of respondents say they’d rather NOT become a manager in their workplace.  Main reason for avoiding the big promotion… “skyrocketing” stress levels and more paperwork.  Eeps.  Looks like the leadership funnel is a little “light” these days.

This result certainly mirrors conversations I seem to be having these days with very smart, talented individuals who are feeling that the supposed “perks” of leadership aren’t worth the accompanying baggage that seems to be showing up in the form of over-work and under-support.  One of the most disturbing trends I see amongst the GenX and GenY leadership co-hort is a general “I don’t think I need the headache” attitude towards leadership.  More and more seem to opting into strategic “individual contributor” roles but steering clear of anything that smacks of formal people management.

Why is this happening?  Afterall, didn’t the baby boomer generation drill into our heads that a successful career was one that involved multiple promotions that increased both scope and influence??  Are we less ambitious than prior leaders… or simply more astute to the realities of life on the way to the top?

From my own experience, here’s what I see driving this trend…

#1 – Management today is FAR more complex than it was 20 years ago and frankly, few of us – no matter how “naturally talented” we are as leaders – are well equipped to deal with the new employee driven agenda.  Command and control is (thankfully) gone, but organizations have done little to change the development process and support for “next generation” leaders.  We’re still using approaches that were driven through the 70’s and 80’s when workers were “a plenty” and layers of middle management existed.  The school of “sink or swim” just doesn’t cut it anymore.

#2 – GenX and GenY leaders are not willing to make the personal sacrifices that boomers made without batting an eye.  Plus, we’re moving from the age of excess to the age of simplicity. If you’ve got your job nailed… you’re earning enough to be comfortable and you enjoy the company you’re with… where’s the motivation to jump onto the management track?

And finally, perhaps the most interesting issue as I see it is this…

#3 – with all the overwhelming crap that can accompany many leaders day-to-day job, it is REALLY easy to lose sight of what an amazing opportunity leadership and management affords us.  When you are given the privilege of leading a team, you have the opportunity to make a lasting impact on another person’s career and, potentially, their life.  You can shine the light on talents they never thought they had; push them to achieve goals they never thought they could do; help them find work that gives them meaning and fulfillment.  That is HUGE.  You could be that person that 20 years from now is talked about like this…

“I once worked for this manager (insert your name here) who was the best boss I ever had.  They gave me the confidence to change into my new role and it literally changed my life.”

WOW.  That’s what great leader/managers do.  Think about it.  Your role as a manager/leader can be as big or small as you make it.  If you choose to see the opportunity as an exercise in paper-pushing, maybe it’s not the right track for you.  But if you can see it for the fantastic potential it has to make a meaningful, lasting difference to another person… then what are you waiting for?  Our organizations and your future employees NEED you.

As leaders, we need to remind ourselves that this is the REAL opportunity.  The buzz of the money, status and perks of management wear off pretty quickly.  If you’re not careful, you’ll find yourself swallowed into the abyss of management minutiae and looking to opt off the track for good… and what a waste of YOUR talent that would be.

Happy leading!


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