In most companies, there’s a defined trajectory to how people evolve and the positions they are assigned.
You start as a technitian, an executor in charge of getting some part done.
You then move on to manager, in charge of getting others to do their job. There often is a pay increase for becoming a manager.
Finally, you may end up becoming a leader, someone in the higher levels of the company in charge of strategy, vision, and the future of your enterprise.
This approach sounds good on paper, and has some advantages. it’s great when the person on top has done all the steps before, so they have a better understanding of what the process entails.
And it’s safer to entrust someone less responsibility in the beginning before granting them more of it as they prove themselves (although never underestimate how much a technician can fuck things up)
In reality though, this linear thinking has many limitations, and ends up creating many situations where people are not playing to their strengths.
There’s the classic case of a person being a better technician than manager, but ends up getting promoted out of pressure or for financial reasons. They end up being miserable and often spreading that to others.
Then there are people who just better managers than technicians. I know someone like this, she’s not great at getting things done, but she’s great at supporting others. She can bring out the best in others, and even improve the operations and systems of the business she works with.
And then there’s me – I’m a skilled technician, and I have leadership qualities, but I’m not a natural manager. It’s something I’m working on, and it’s definitely held me back. But that the same time, were I simply handed a leadership position without passing through the crucible of management, I believe I’d do a very good job of it – developing strategy, outlining a vision, and hopefully inspiring others.
Similar to my vision for resumes becoming skill summaries, my hope is that companies take a more creative and human approach to how they think about people and the value they can contribute.