Whether you work in a corporate environment, or for yourself, there comes a time in every career when you need to stop crawling under desks, both literally and figuratively. While I often bemoan the practice of removing professionals from active duty, where they often have the most expertise, as we age, we need to move into roles more suited to our abilities and temperaments. Every career will eventually move into “management” although it can be management in a form quite different from what you might expect.
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Over the Thanksgiving holiday I was talking with my sister, Denise, about our businesses. We are both independent computer consultants and both well into our 40′s. We are also both looking for the next step in our careers, the one that removes us from the grunt work of consulting…installing DSL and cable modems, routers and otherwise crawling beneath the desks of our clients. As we talked I struck upon the idea for this column.
There comes a time in everyone’s career when “management” becomes necessary. Of course, as is typical for Career Opportunities, I have a slightly different view of management than you might encounter elsewhere. Management can take many forms. In a corporate environment, it might be becoming a department head, director, vice-president or any of the above.
As an independent consultant, it might mean taking on employees to do the physical work, while you provide higher-level support and customer relations. It could also mean mentoring younger careerists and helping them develop their skills, connections and career. Finally, I even see a column like this one as a form of “management.” I am offering the benefit of my experience and knowledge to anyone who listens or reads on a regular basis. In fact, after our discussion, I see this as the next step in my career — my move into management.
As you can see, moving into management usually means distancing yourself from the hands-on work you have been doing for years. This can be a struggle for some people, especially if they define themselves mainly from the work they do. It can feel like you are stripping away a part of yourself when you stop putting “hands-on”, but you have a new role to play now. Instead of doing the job yourself, you need to develop ways to communicate your knowledge and skills to others. While it may seem strange and a bit intimidating, it is all part of growing your career.
If you are starting to approach a career change like this, I highly recommend you prepare yourself before you make the jump. I know that among the high-tech workers I know, communication is not necessarily one of their strongest skills. This is only natural, having spent years immersed in the arcane language of computers, routers and networks. Start investigating the wide variety of books and web sites that touch on communication and management. I am an inveterate reader and regularly have 4 or 5 books out of the library at any one time. They range from hard business books, to creativity, to management to gardening and beyond. This is my form of an MBA or Ph.D, I may never return to school for these higher degrees, but I work on my own personal education every single day…and you should, too. This is one way to prepare for your eventual advancement to management in all its forms.
Next, you have to actively seek out opportunities to expand into these new roles. When the boss comes looking for someone to take over a project, even a small one, take it! Don’t second guess yourself. Hopefully, you have been preparing for this role over time, but if not, this will be a perfect time to start. Sure you will make mistakes, we all do, but you will be taking your first steps on the road to the next stage in your career. Too often, I have avoided opportunities like this, but now I know just how important they are. Sure, if you are in your 20′s you might not be thinking about career transitions yet, but you should be. Just like saving money, the sooner you start preparing, the bigger results you will see down the road.
Prepare yourself for your eventual transition into some sort of managerial role. Despite what you might think, this a natural progression for every worker, especially as they grow older. Start thinking today about getting out from under the desk, because when you are my age, you will be looking for a little relief and some big changes in your career.