Why Do I / Do I / Even Want / This

A wise friend of mine the other day raised a very interesting point – why do I want to be in a senior leadership role? It first struck me as a strange questions – who wouldn’t want to be in a senior leadership role? Isn’t that the point of working – to be able to strategize and lead a team to achieve substantial goals? It doesn’t have to happen now but it is the eventual goal if you want to move up in your career.

He shocked some sense into me by noting that he doesn’t know many people – if any – that really WANT to be in such a senior role. No one wants this role because quite frankly it’s impossible to succeed in it… and I do feel it’s even harder as a woman (especially a socially awkward one) than it would be for a man.

The best senior leaders don’t actually do any work. They successfully hire / fire right and motivate their team to be their best aligned to the company’s common goals and they promote the shit out of themselves and their teams without sounding like their boasting. That’s it. That’s why successful executives tend to be the people who have a BA in BS – it’s a very valuable skill/trait to have, and it’s something so alien to my being that I am now convinced I ought to give up.

It is very clear that my current company is seeking to replace me as soon thats feasibly possible. I found out, through various means, that they’re interviewing for someone more polished and been-there, done-that to take over without actually telling me as much. It appears one candidate was far along in the process and took another offer, so perhaps this buys me some time. But I don’t want to buy time. I want to be good at my job. And this is the type of job I’ll never be good at. Why? Because I do too much.

I hate playing the gender card but I do think it’s a lot harder for women to get away with just being leaders. In a small company no one can really just manage – yet the true leaders are the ones that bring value to the table in their public speaking abilities and relationships, and everyone else does the work, work. Except – when you’re a female executive, especially a young, unproven one, you have to be both a leader and individual contributor. What I’m learning is most men wouldn’t even take a job that requires them to do that. I just seem to be a professional masochist.

That said, I’ve been going back to why I wanted this or any job like this in the first place… and the moments when I truly love what I do. I don’t really care about being the head of anything… but I do like to be in charge of strategy and lesser so execution. I’ve never done well working for someone who tells me exactly what to do. I have ideas and quite frankly I believe many of my ideas are good ideas… though my execution is admittedly lacking which gets me back to, well, this damned place where I know I’m on my way out, whether I like it or not.

My very german therapist tells me I need to stop chasing money. So do my blog readers. But it isn’t the money that makes this a job I like. I enjoy the wins. I am fueled by the victories where I can clearly show my contributions helped the bottom line. Perhaps I’m delusional in how much influence I can actually have given my anxiety drives my mind in unproductive circles time and again around the moments when I actually get shit done and put a dent in the everlasting pile of work that isn’t clearly defined yet is sitting so glob-like on my already-cracked and seemingly soon-to-be shattered plate.

But… I guess it’s true… not many people want to be in charge of departments. Especially not many people in their early 30s. That’s something you do when you’re 50+ and have many years of experience under your belt and the lines in your face which organically garners respect. The only reason someone like me gets hired in a position like this is 1) at the time I’m hired, better people for the position aren’t interested yet in joining and 2) better people for the position would refuse to join unless they were set up for success which = larger team so they don’t end up having to do all/most of the work in order to claim success.

Now, don’t get me wrong here – I’m not complaining about having to do work. I’m just struggling with being a senior executive and junior-level individual contributor and mid-level manager and creative expert all at the same time. This is a requirement of this role not in my company specifically but any small company hiring for the position, with slight variations. You are tasked with being everything and yet when you fail to do that you’ve let the world down and clearly you were a bad hire. Then the company goes back to the drawing board to learn from it’s “mistakes” and perhaps hires someone more traditional who can go through the motions at the least in a way that’s much more convincing than I ever could. In the end, though, few succeed. The best execs I know have all left startups. They’ve figured out that their best chance of success is to use their charisma to manage large teams and be that rock which inspires the masses to get shit done and not let said shit hit the fan.

I’m not that person. I’ll never have consistent, readily available charisma.

I can’t fake it. I drain too easily. I need to hide in a corner for a day and recharge.

My friend noted that if you want to become a senior exec you don’t try to become one, it just happens when you’re good at something. He’s right. I never was able to get good enough at any one thing so this whole career progression has been forced and riddled with improbable success paths and far more roads to failure. That’s just where I’m at now. It’s a lot to think about… but at least I feel myself pulling closer to accepting that I’m not a senior exec, I shouldn’t be one and I shouldn’t want to be one. So what should I want to be?

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6 comments

  1. James says:

    If you’re sure they’re trying to replace you, perhaps you should be testing the markets yourself. Why stay where you know you aren’t wanted.

    1. David says:

      Perhaps Joy already is doing so but I’ve found that–contrary to conventional wisdom–it is easier to find a job when you don’t have a job–as long as you start looking aggressively soon after being laid off. You have more time to look, interview, etc when you are out of work! When you still have a job it is a good time research the market and see what is out there but a serious job search is much easier when you can focus on it 24×7.

  2. This post rings true for me. I used to want to be in the C-Suite but ever since I found the FI world, I’ve been sliding further and further away from that goal. I was almost a Director at 25 years old at a Fortune 500 company but turned it down to pursue other opportunities that are better for me financially and emotionally. It’s crazy to see myself want to step off the hamster wheel especially when I had this dream for so long but I do!

  3. David says:

    Your instinct to hesitate before playing the ‘woman card’ is correct. You have an enormous amount to offer without having to play that card.

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