I am what’s called a “people leader”—I lead individual contributors at a global software giant. I am also a technical contributor as a subject matter expert in a specific application.
I don’t love managing people. I am quite reserved and I find it tiring—but it is the only way to get ahead in this company. I’ve always thought I would stay here forever and rise through the ranks. But there has been so much change over the last 18 months that I have had three different bosses. The last one barely seems to know I am alive and has no idea about my technical expertise.
The person who runs the team on which I am an SME disagrees with the strategic direction of the organization and is planning to leave. He wants to take me with him. He is convincing me that if I went, I would make a lot more money and be able to focus on my technical expertise. I am single and could move, although I would be leaving my family and friends.
I have gotten myself into a state and have no idea what I should I do. Thoughts?
Stay or Go?
Dear Stay or Go,
Ah, these big life decisions. Of course, I can’t recommend a course of action one way or the other. I personally have a bias toward action, which has brought me enormous joy and probably more than my fair share of really bad mistakes. But I can help you review the situation as you have laid it out.
You enjoy the technical part of your job, but you have been pressured into managing people. The company you work for is unstable and you get no attention or support from management. The one senior person who seems to grasp and appreciate your value is leaving the company and wants to take you with him. So far, he has made promises, but as yet you have received no official offer. If you were to agree to an attractive offer, you would have to move and leave a settled life with an established community.
Essentially, you just don’t have enough information yet. I think before you do anything rash, you have to get a solid offer that includes a substantial raise, a clear job description, and your moving expenses covered. Until then, it is all pure speculation.
But this event is a bit of a wake-up call that everything is not quite right in your current position. And it’s an opportunity for you to define for yourself what would be better for you. To make these big life decisions, it is helpful for you to understand your core psychological needs and your values.
Values are important. What makes you smile? What do you gravitate to naturally? What gives you energy and pleasure? Ask yourself: Will I be more aligned with my values in this new situation?
Your needs are even more critical. They are what you have to have. To figure out your needs, think about what you must have to be fully functional. It sounds like you might have a need to pursue your mastery of your technical expertise, but you have no need to be in charge of other people.
Some needs don’t really become apparent until they aren’t met. One of the best ways to identify your needs is to think about a time when you behaved badly or became almost sick with unhappiness. Chances are some fundamental need wasn’t being met. What was it?
Do you like to be appreciated or do you need it? Do you like having a close community near you, or do you need it? If you get a reasonable offer, you will want to ask yourself Will I be able to rebuild a life in a new place where I can get what I need to be stable?
If I could be so bold, I’d like to recommend my book Leverage Your Best in this column. It has some great detail on needs and values and it might be worth your while. The more you understand about yourself, the easier it will be to make these big life choices.
If in the passage of time and events you decide to stay where you are, this exploration will still be useful and will help you shape your career path and inform the requests you make of your current management.
I hope you do a little self-reflection and learn more about who you are and what you really want out of life. The more thought you put into it now, the more likely you will be able to create an extraordinary life with few regrets.
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