The choice between technical specialty and managing

Dear Joan:

I was promoted eight months ago from a technical position to a supervisor. I fell into it because the supervisor was fired and there was no one to take over. At first it seemed fun. I was flattered that they thought I could do it. I promised myself that I wouldn’t make all the mistakes that my former boss made.


I worked hard to give good guidance to the group and they seem to really work hard for me and I got a lot of compliments. The department’s work has been better than ever. So, you might wonder what the problem is. The bottom line is that I hate it.


I have discovered that I really love what I used to do. It may sound selfish but I don’t really like helping others do their work. I want to do it! Everyone agrees that I was good at my former job (I’m sure that is why I got this job.).  So, how do I get it back again? Do I have to quit and go somewhere else? It seems such a shame to have to leave this company in order to go “backwards.” And if I do, what do I tell potential employers?



It seems crazy doesn’t it? It seems to me that the goal of every company should be to find the best job fit for every employee; whether it be sideways, upward or downward. Yet, what ends up happening is this “up is the only way” mentality.


Most organizations have awakened to the idea of lateral transfers, to allow for personal and professional growth. But even that is a new idea in some organizations. But now that employee retention is so critical, due to the shrinking labor market, companies are expanding their thinking to include six-month rotations and permanent lateral moves. Some organizations are taking it a step farther and experimenting with internal internships, where current employees go to school to learn new skills and they have an opportunity to “intern” in a new area, while they work in their regular job.


But the sad truth is that downward moves still carry a stigma. (“Oh sure, it’s fine to go back to your old job but we all know it’s really a demotion because you couldn’t handle it. Your career here is basically over…you’ll be stuck in your old job forever.”)


So, here are the key questions for you:


§         If you go back to your old job, will your career progress in your company be stunted? Do you care?

§         Have you learned as much as you can in your former job and is it time to move to a new company so that you can learn something new in your technical area?

§         Does your current company offer you any other opportunities that would suit your interests better?

§         How much negotiating leverage do you have? In other words, how valuable are you to your company? Will they respond to a request for a different job—or your old job?


I recommend a two-phased approach. Check out other opportunities outside your company and, at the same time, have a talk with your manager about other opportunities in your organization. However, if you already know that your organization doesn’t offer you any other options and your boss would take a dim view of a request to leave your job, you may want to skip the conversation with your manager altogether.


If you feel that your boss is open minded enough to have this discussion, you might say, “I really appreciate the opportunity you gave me to try out supervision. It’s been a great learning experience for me. But while I appreciate it, I’ve also learned that it’s not my passion. What I really love is X. I’d like to talk with you about how to go back to doing what I’m best at. I would be more than happy to work through a transition and help you hire a new manager and train him or her but I’ve decided that supervising others isn’t for me.”


Chances are, he or she will be disappointed but will have little choice but to understand your position. The question becomes whether or not there is a position for you to go back to now. It may have been filled when you moved up. This will spark a discussion about future plans and when a position may open up and what a logical timeline might be. If nothing seems imminent, you may want to express your willingness to stay in your current job for a period of time.


In any event, if you do leave, simply tell future employers the truth. The fact that you are so talented that they promoted you is a good story to tell but it’s also okay to tell them that you now know exactly what you want and you’re ready to deliver the technical results you do best.

Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 573-1616,, or 
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