Please don’t become a boss if …

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I remember when Karen got promoted to team leader. It took her less than a morning to realize that becoming a boss was a huge mistake. She went right back to being an outstanding individual contributor.

Karen, her coworkers, and her company were all lucky. Her company let her go back to being an individual contributor and sought someone else for the promotion.

Nobody knows for sure how many awful bosses there are out there. Whatever the number is, it’s too many. Companies get most of the blame.

Too often, they promote people for the wrong reasons, like the fact that they’re a good individual contributor, or they’ve been around the longest. Being a boss, a person responsible for the performance of a group, is a unique kind of work. It’s not the right kind of work for everyone.

Until most companies come around and start doing the boss selection and preparation job right, it’s going to be up to you if you’re thinking about being promoted. Here’s my plea: “Please don’t become a boss if…”

Please Don’t Become a Boss for The Money or The Title

More money is always nice and an impressive title may make you feel good, but it won’t be enough if you don’t like the work. Try out being a boss in a temporary assignment to see if you like the work. If you do, consider moving into a boss’s job. If you don’t, give it a pass.

Please Don’t Become a Boss If You Think It Will Be Easy

Being responsible for the performance of a group looks easy from the outside. Karen is a very smart woman with high emotional intelligence. She figured that she wouldn’t have a problem as a boss, but she was very wrong.

Being responsible for the performance of a group is hard work. It will take you a year and a half or so to master the basics and maybe a decade to master the job. Even after that, you’ll need to be learning and improving until the day you retire.

Please Don’t Become a Boss If You Have Trouble Making Decisions

Decisions are one of the things that bosses do. If you try to avoid decisions or keep putting them off, stay where you are and let someone else be the default decider. If you don’t you’ll slow a team down and frustrate your teammates.

Please Don’t Become a Boss If You Won’t Confront People About Poor Behavior or Performance

When you’re the boss, part of your job is to have those difficult conversations with people who aren’t behaving or performing the way they ought to. In almost every case, the longer you put off that difficult conversation, the harder it will be and the less likely things will turn out the way you’d like.

My research and experience indicate that you’re are either willing to have those conversations or you’re not. Your company can teach you how to be more effective at it, but they can’t teach you to be willing to do it. If you’re not willing to have those difficult conversations promptly, you’ll condone poor performance and bad behavior and that’s toxic.

Please Don’t Become a Boss If Being Accountable Is a Problem for You

Great bosses take the blame when their team messes up and gives the credit out liberally when the team succeeds. If that kind of thing is a problem for you, becoming a boss is not a good idea.

Please Don’t Become a Boss If You Don’t Enjoy Helping Other People Succeed

My experience and research lead me to think that the best bosses are the ones who find joy in helping other people succeed. If you won’t enjoy helping the team and individual team members succeed, you won’t be happy or effective as a boss.

Please Don’t Become a Boss If You Want to Be in Control

It may look like the boss is the one who’s in control, but that’s an illusion. When you become a boss, you lose control, you don’t gain it. When you’re an individual contributor, and you want to be more successful, it’s up to you. When you’re a boss, it’s up to your team members. As one person in a class of mine years ago said, “When you’re the boss, the team is your destiny.”

Bottom Line

Karen was lucky. Her boss and her company let her give up her “promotion” and go back to being an individual contributor. You can’t do that in most companies. So, before you accept a move to being a boss, make sure you love the work and love helping the team and team members succeed.


Here are four books that can help you do a better job as a boss.

Good Boss, Bad Boss by Bob Sutton

The Leadership Challenge by James Kouzes and Barry Posner

The Progress Principle by Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer

My ebook, Become a Better Boss One Tip at a Time

If you’re stuck working for a jerk, grab a copy of Bob Sutton’s latest book The Asshole Survival Guide.

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