Individual contributor to boss: some questions to answer

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If you’re an individual contributor who’s thinking about taking a position where you’re responsible for the performance of a group, you’re not alone. But before you accept that “promotion,” make sure the work is for you.

A boss’s job is different

Bosses are people whose job includes responsibility for the performance of a group. That work is qualitatively different from being an individual contributor. It’s more like a career change than a job change.

And in many organizations, once you’ve accepted a move to group responsibility, it’s almost impossible to go back to being an individual contributor. Even if you hate the work. Even if you’re an awful boss.

Why do you want that job?

The great bosses that I’ve studied and spent time with all loved their work. They were intrinsically motivated. It’s hard to do a good job, especially in adverse circumstances, if you don’t love the work.

If you want a boss’s job because of the pay or the perks or anything else that comes from outside you, beware. Those are hygiene factors and their motivating power drops away quickly.

Loving the work won’t guarantee that you’ll become a great boss. You still need to build on your strengths and work hard. But it’s almost impossible to become great at anything you don’t love.

The best way to determine whether you will like the work of being responsible for group performance is to do it. You can do that in volunteer settings or by taking leadership positions on temporary project teams. Consider the following to determine if you will love the work of being a boss.

Do you like helping other people succeed?

The primary work of a boss is helping the team and team members succeed. If that motivates you, you’ve got a shot at being a good boss.

Are you willing to have tough conversations about performance and behavior?

When you’re responsible for the performance of a group, it’s your job to confront team members about poor performance and toxic behavior. That’s not comfortable or easy, but it’s part of the job.

Are you willing to make decisions and be accountable for them?

Anybody in any position can make decisions, but when you’re responsible for the performance of a group, your decisions are both public and part of the job. You have to be willing to make decisions when you don’t have enough information and when the emotional currents run strong. Then you’re responsible for the results.

Are you willing to step back?

We talk a lot about the need for decisiveness and strength, but the great bosses are great at stepping back, too. They’re willing to let team members make the mistakes that help them grow. They’re willing to consider the ideas and thoughts of others without needing to “win.” They’re willing to have their performance measured by the performance of the team.

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