You’re the boss, but you’re unhappy. You’re the Sales Manager, the Operations Manager, the Senior Team Leader, but you really don’t like it very much, and you’re beginning to wonder if you made a terrible mistake wanting to be a manager in the first place.
So…when is it okay to decide you want out? When is it okay to decide to stop being the boss?
Let’s consider a few thoughts about this — but first, a disclaimer. I am NOT giving you advice here! A decision to step down from a management position is a highly individual one, not to be taken lightly. Seek plenty of honest input from people whose counsel you trust, and make sure you’ve handled the decision well before you take what many would consider a leap backward. Don’t act impulsively. (And before you read on, sign this release form. Just kidding.)
I bring this question up because I have twice made the decision to step out of a management job and to stay with the same organization in a “front line” role with no supervisory responsibilities. In hindsight both decisions were good ones, and were I faced with the same choice today I would likely do the same thing. The first time I stepped down voluntarily was early in my radio career when I was Sales Manager; the second time came more than two decades later when I was VP of Donor Relations. Here are a few common denominators that affected each decision. Do any of these apply to you in your present managerial situation?
- In both instances I was working for a boss I found very hard to please, largely due to my inexperience
- Both those bosses felt they knew more about my job (radio sales and fundraising) than I did, and they may have been right
- In both instances I felt like I was in over my head and had doubts (groundless, but real) about my future job security
- In both of these situations my dissatisfaction had gone on for months — and seemed to be getting worse
- In both cases I had begun to doubt my professional abilities, and that self-doubt was compounding the stress in my life
- In both situations I had complete support from my trusting and discerning wife who saw how the stress was affecting me
- In each of these situations, before I made a move, I had met with my boss on multiple occasions and talked openly through my decision process so the choice to step down from management did not seem impulsive or irresponsible
- In each case I planned as well as I could for my own transition within the organization, and also helped plan how my managerial duties would be covered by reorganizing the team.
How did it turn out? The first time, I moved from Sales Manager into a sales position and things went fairly well. The second time I moved from the VP position into a fundraising job and things went okay but I ended up taking a job outside the organization six months later. The downside both times was that I did take a hit in salary and benefits — ouch — and my ego took a hit as well, to be candid, even though leaving management was my decision. So it goes. But each time I was happier and will probably live longer as a result. And I did end up managing again (after the first self-demotion anyway) and was much better at it the second time around.
If you’re a leader and happy in that role, stick to it with enthusiasm. If you’re new to leadership and you’re not sure how happy you are, hang in there — you need time to learn and to grow. But if you’ve been managing for a while and you’re increasingly unhappy and unsure of yourself, it just might not be the worst thing in the world, after you’ve taken all the variables into account, to decide to do the counterintuitive thing and step down voluntarily, moving into a non-managerial role. Just a thought, for what it’s worth.