Work to Be a Leader — Not a Manager

Kerri Roberts
Kerri Roberts



“I want to be in management.”

I can’t count the number of times I’ve been in an interview with an applicant or a meeting with a current employee and I ask what his or her ultimate career goal for the next three to five (or 10) years is and I get back, “I plan to be in management.” It’s not the response itself that causes me to cringe. It’s the lack of response when I ask my follow-up questions:

  • Where do you feel like you need to develop between now and then to get you there?
  • What are you doing to prepare yourself for that role?
  • What are the strengths you think you bring to the table?
  • What weaknesses have you identified and are working on right now?
  • Who is your mentor?
  • What are you reading?

The sad truth is, I would say in over 80 percent of the meetings in which this conversation happens, most employees haven’t even thought through the answers to the questions posed. In addition, several think they are above the answers or that they are a natural fit for management or maybe their schooling puts them next in line. But when I’m thinking about management, I’m not thinking about a person who can manage a process. I’m thinking, “Where are my leaders?”

My business mentor is a guy by the name of William Burke. William knows how to tough love someone to death. He taught me a million things during the four years I was fortunate enough to work for him, and continues to guide me to this day. On this topic, one thing sticks out in my mind the most: William always told me to work myself out of my job. At first blush, this concept seemed foreign and hard to grasp. He never had to explain it to me after that first talk though. I got it, and I hope others can begin to get it too. If you want to be a manager or “in management,” you should focus on being a leader. Leaders develop others. Leaders put their company and team first. Managers can execute processes. Leaders can, in the words of Bill Hybels, take it from “here to there.”

To work one’s self out of a job, the thought would be that a true leader will make sure he or she has embraced his or her current role and taken it to the next level. They know for sure they brought value to the position. They cleaned up, brought it together, innovated, moved things and set themselves up for future success.

The next step would be to ensure there is someone on his or her team that can carry the torch. I don’t mean the leader should create someone who can execute tasks and continue the exact same vision. The leader has spent time to develop, care for, teach and empower another who is ready and willing to take it to the next level.

In additional to working one’s self out of a job, taking a stab at the questions above will help as well. Everyone has room to develop. Where are your areas of development? Are you focusing on how you could improve? What steps are you taking to get yourself to the skills needed for management? How are you identifying what the needed skills are for you? Why you and not someone else? Make sure you realize you have weaknesses! Be humble. Who are you learning from in the industry or elsewhere? Who mentors you? Do you read or study? How are you keeping up with changes and how can you get ahead?

Are you ready for the next step?

Continue the Disucssion

  • Who inspires you in your professional life?
  • What is the best lesson for success that you’ve learned?
Topics: Leadership

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