How to know what’s better for you: A manager role or a senior role?

This is a question a lot of people have: Should I be in a senior role? Or a manager role?. And I had that question too and started looking for answers.

I find my answers in books, and this time is no different. I picked up The Making of a Manager book after seeing good reviews on Twitter.

I’m still in the first chapters of the book, but I did get my answer. And that’s what I’m trying to share with you today.

First, I wanted to get something out of the way, so we both start on the same page. “Becoming a manager” is often seen as a promotion. In many organizations, your ability to grow in your career will hit a ceiling unless you start managing people. There are jobs where, beyond a certain skill level, the only path for growth is learning to manage. For example, retail sales or customer support.

That said, many organizations have paths for advancement that don’t require managing others. Particularly those that seek to attract skilled or creative talent. You can practice to become a distinguished expert in your field.

You can either grow as a manager or as an “individual contributor”. Both tracks offer equal opportunities for impact, growth, and compensation. This means becoming a manager is not a promotion, it’s a transition to another different track.

Now, back to our question. How to know if you want to be in a senior role or move to management? For that, you need to answer a simple question:

Do I find it more motivating to achieve a particular outcome or play a specific role?

What does this mean?

When you’re a manager, you’re judged on your team outcomes. So your job is to do whatever most helps them succeed. If your team is lacking key skills, you need to spend time training or hiring. If someone is creating problems, then you need to get him to stop. A lot of this work is unglamorous. But because it’s important, it must be done. And if nobody else does it, then it falls on you.

If you’re motivated to achieve a particular outcome. Shipping that product, evolving the processes, training… Then you will probably enjoy (or at least not mind) the variation that comes with the job.

If instead, there is a specific activity that you love too much to give up. Whether it’s teaching students, writing code, or designing products. Then you may find your personal goals at odds with what the team needs most.

If you’re motivated to achieve a particular goal regardless of the work. Then you’ll be a good manager.

If you’re interested in a specific activity, then moving to a senior role is better.

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