A reader writes:
I’m in my mid-thirties, and have a fairly successful technical career — I have a good reputation for dependable work, common sense, and seeing connections that people miss. Every year, in my performance evaluations, I’m asked how I want to move ahead: my manager sees potential in me, and keeps encouraging me to move up a ladder into leadership positions.
I really don’t want a leadership position. I am happy with what I’m doing now, and the leadership roles all seem to come with an enormous amount of stress. I make enough to take care of myself and my kids, and I give value to the company where I am right now. I don’t want to buy into the more-more-more and sacrifice my happiness, my comfort, and time with my family for a bigger paycheck and more responsibilities.
Is there a way to say this to my manager? Every year, I say something like, “I’m really just looking to broaden and deepen my technical skillset,” but he keeps pressing me to take on different (higher-stress) roles.
It sounds like you need to be more direct: “I really appreciate your confidence in me and your push for me to move up, but I’ve given this a lot of thought, and I’m really happy with what I’m doing currently. I don’t want to move into management; I have huge respect for people who do, but it’s just not me. I love my current work and want to focus on getting better and better at it. Is that something that you can see working well here?”
You’re asking that last part because the reality is that some places really do get nervous if you don’t move up (or out) after a certain amount of time, and you want to get a clearer picture of how your company sees that.
There are two things that could potentially make your manager nervous here, and it’ll help to understand both so that you can proactively head them off.
The first is the question of whether you’re going to want to stay in the same role but continue to get salary increases. There’s usually a ceiling for how much it makes sense to pay someone in a given role, even if they’ve been in it for years.
The second is whether you want to keep learning and improving within your current role. Having someone stick around for years and just stagnate — not learn new things or seek out improvements to how they do their job — isn’t an appealing prospect. So you want to make sure that it’s clear that you do want to keep learning and growing — just without moving up.
As long as you’re able to address both of these fronts, most good employers (and that caveat is deliberate) will welcome someone who is content where they are and who wants to keep growing in place. Just be clear and transparent about it.