What If I Don’t Want to be a Leader?

It seems almost everyday there is an article written about there not being enough women, especially female leaders, in technology. While I’m not an engineer, I have managed to make a career for myself in tech. Not counting my first year out of school when I was working a variety of non-profit jobs, I now have 5.5 full years of experience working in some area of the technology industry.

There are days when I dream of one day being CEO or VP of a company, but in reality I don’t have what it takes to be a leader. I’ve written about my poor lack of management skills previously, and while some of them can be learned and approved on, I just don’t have what it takes to lead. I’m quite socially awkward to begin with, and I am a bit of a perfectionist. I have trouble managing myself let alone other people. I’m decent with managing an agency where the relationships are not so connected, but I can’t see myself becoming a true in-office team building type of leader, ever. I’m not a follower, either, though. I’m a do-er. I like to come up with ideas and make them happen, and then move on to the next project. (Maybe I should work for an agency… hmm…)

Leaders must be extremely confident in their own abilities, confident enough to make someone look up to them and at the same time not to worry that the person who gain enough power to replace them at any given time. They must know when to prod someone to improvement versus when to let things just get done. When they prod, they must be gentle but firm, and ideally closer to right than wrong. They must be able to follow up on priorities, ensure process is followed, and deliverables are of high quality.

Since I’ve decided I will never be a leader, at least not in the technology space, I’ve been wondering what my goal in life should be. It’s a bit frustrating because where I am now professionally, in a senior manager level role, puts me in a prime position to move on to better paying roles with leadership written all over them. When I get to that point, will I really want them? I wonder if there will come a time in my life when everything will click and I will suddenly be ready to lead. But I’m more absent-minded professor than slick and savvy CEO. But instead of dedicating my life to study and research, I yearn to create.

In 20 months I will be 30 years old. The biological clock is also ticking and this only makes me more confused over what my career path should be. I just cannot see myself as VP or CEO of a company — in fact, the only thing I can really clearly see myself being is a mother. That can happen with also being VP or CEO, but not in the way I envision it. Even if I was a natural born leader, would I ever be able to achieve the same career success as a man with the same talent and proclivities?

All the while, I don’t like the bitter taste business leaves in my mouth. I’m the type of person that wants everyone to win, and while it’s fun to feel part of a team competing against another group (in fact, the professional world is the first time I’ve ever felt like I sort of fit in), it’s still something that grates away at my values. It’s not my business in particular, it’s any business. It’s the nature of the game. Some people (I’m guessing mostly men) thrive on competition, which works well in business — especially cut-throat, rapidly changing industries like technology — but those people are definitely not me. I hate competition and I hate feeling like I’m attacking someone else(‘s product) or that they are attacking me back. Are there a lot of women that really enjoy this sort of this? Is it possible that men just thrive on this constant war and women biologically are inclined to protect and nurture?

This must be why the technology industry is such a boys club. I can’t talk the same talk. I can’t shoot jabs at the competition, or get into the game fully heart and soul. Watching newer members of my company, all male, jump on board and get into these conversations, makes me realize how much of an outsider I still am. It might be because I’m a woman, or it might be just because I’m not someone who excels in business. I’m reasonably talented at marketing strategy and overall enjoy anything involving strategic thinking and defining process. I’ll put down the rules to the battle, but will step out and take a long walk far away before the first shot rings out into the night.

The trouble is that success, at least financial success, relies on one’s ability to stand up and fight battle after battle with a chance they’ll win the war. Is it so wrong that deep down I want my knight in shining armor to come and rescue me from the war and tell me he’ll fight the battles while I stay home with the kids? Not that I really want to “stay home,” but I want that option, and more freedom. Many people don’t even have that option ever, and I don’t think I “deserve” it, but that doesn’t change the fact that I want it. Or, that suddenly a life of doing a more mundane yet important job like cutting hair or designing living rooms seems much more attractive, versus everyday waking up to battle.

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6 thoughts on “What If I Don’t Want to be a Leader?”

  1. My boss recently told me I would be much higher up if I had better people skills but I know my strengths are technical and getting things done behind the scenes rather than being the leader who motivates and manages while gladhanding the clients.

    Without folks like you and me, the leaders would be talking hot air. I'm happy (enough) being the unsung hero because I know it's a position where I'm most effective.

  2. I think it takes a lot of guts to admit you don't necessarily want to be a leader, especially in an age of OMG MUST EMPOWER ALL WOMEN TO TAKE CONTROL!!!! After working as a supervisor for quite awhile, I realized I simply didn't enjoy being in that type of position. I crave independence, but all being a supervisor did was give me MORE things to get in trouble for – things I did or didn't do, plus the things my staff did or didn't do.

    I know several people who naturally fell into leadership positions because it suits their personality, and that's great. It's not for me, though, and this post served as a great reminder of that. Thanks for writing it!
    Curiosity Killed the recently posted..Quick Tip: Using the Read More Tag

  3. I started to respond to your post seriously but all the sexist comments that kept popping up in your post started to bother me.

    I was raised in the 80's and early 90's buy parents that both worked. And my MOTHER ended up making more money and had a better retirement than my father in the end. But that is not your argument.

    Your Argument is about being an ineffectual leader in a time of possible equality.

    You don't want to be a leader…. blah, blah, blah. So don't. just ask your Prince Charming for a pay check for raising your kids.

    You want to blame men for a perceived problem that has changed…. oh since the 70's at least.

    The problem as I see it is not with men but with women. Yes I said it.

    1. Do you want to be a leader?

    2. Are you willing to put your families needs aside for the company

    3. Ask the Fortune 500's, I'm sure they have hundreds more such questions to ask potential candidates (male and female.)

    As for your main idea, if you do not want to be a Leader let your supervisors know so.

    As for your Prince Charming, I hope he will not see this post of yours.

  4. @Kwest it's partially about being an ineffectual leader in a time of equality, but it's also about style of leadership. I'm not by nature a competitive person. There are some women who are extremely competitive, especially in business, but look at our hormonal makeup and you will see that men tend to have more testosterone and be drawn to such competition. I think this is a part of the problem. Many businesses, especially in the tech industry, need these fierce competitive leaders to get ahead. Women are often taught to be nurturing and not seek out competition. Re: my "Prince Charming" — I currently make $110k and my boyfriend makes $20k, so I'm by no means saying that my prince needs to make more money than I do. I just think that it would be nice to have a husband one day who makes a reasonable salary, especially given that my career will probably stagnate at some point since I am not leadership material. It's tough working with lots of guys who are (85% of my company is male) and seeing how well they do in these environments, and in the back of my mind wondering if I'm making a mistake not pursuing a life with a man who is more aggressive in business like this, since I will never be.

  5. Are there a lot of women that really enjoy this sort of this? Is it possible that men just thrive on this constant war and women biologically are inclined to protect and nurture?

    Yes, there are plenty of women who enjoy leading. The region I'm leaving is filled with women who are very skilled at leading highly successful teams. As a manager in your industry for 5.5 years now, I am one of them. I have transformed low and middle performers into stars, and I have led innovation on first-of-their-kind apps and cloud software interfaces. I thrive on the opportunity to mentor and manage employees, and while I've won awards and recognition, the feeling of pride when your employee does great work – regardless of whether it's at your company or at a different one – can't be topped for me.

    This must be why the technology industry is such a boys club. I can’t talk the same talk.

    Tech is a boys' club because its leaders systemically shut women out starting in college, sometimes even in high school. I was incredibly fortunate to attend a high school that, during the Clinton years, emphasized its STEM program and was equally tough on teen boys and girls. The girls wound up excelling and the boys dropped out of the rigorous AP chemistry, biology, biochemistry, physics, and calculus classes. I've spoken with many other late Gen-X female peers who were not in this type of environment. They've told me stories of going to high schools where STEM was changed from an analytical, objective collection of disciplines to "soft" studies, all under the guise of protecting these women's feelings. Other women have spoken of horribly sexist high school teachers who emphasized home ec. and the liberal arts and who opined that women didn't belong in STEM.

    Computer science and information technology in undergrad are taught to the level of young men who've been programming and tinkering with computers starting from their pre-teen years. There's no space for women who haven't been exposed to programming and technology concepts to "catch up," so to speak. I was again fortunate in that I took a few tech classes in undergrad that played to my strengths, and have since become a very advanced front-end programmer through self-study, certification courses, online college courses and community college classes, and on-the-job training.

    Finally, there is a ridiculous glass ceiling in this profession that harms women in many ways. First, most women reach their highest level of promotion in their 30s. It's assumed that all women want to be mothers, and there's no use promoting them further, since they'll leave. Secondly, any woman who wants to work on the design end of tech is snubbed for men. Women are viewed as "not creative" and despite the innovations and contributions of female technologists throughout history, men's work is always promoted, discussed, and given prizes. I won a prestigious design award and a man's name was put on it – a man, mind you, who had no involvement in the project AT ALL. Women are also much more likely to be bullied and steamrolled at work, kept off the high-profile projects in favor of administrative duties and "soft" roles like project management, and the farther they go in their tech careers, the less they are paid relative to men with equal or lesser experience, credentials, and talent.

    So that's why tech is a boys' club, in a nutshell. If you feel that this field isn't something you'd want to do long-term, that's totally fine! But please don't ignore we ladies who are battling in the trenches every day for our gender to be heard, seen, hired, promoted, and above all, recognized. Thanks for providing this opportunity for thoughtful discussion. I've enjoyed reading your blog.

  6. p.s. Another issue with tech, especially the creative end of it (web design, UI design, etc. – where the gender split is much closer to 50/50) is that women are far less likely to be hired. The recession has made this worse. In the recovery, 90% of professional positions are going to men, and more than 80% of relocation offers are going to men. I have applied to companies that employ no women, and to companies where the sole female employee was the secretary or marketing manager, and never heard from them. My last company, where I was the only woman AND the only female department head for half of my tenure there (during the other half, we had three women, one of whom was a social media coordinator, and one of whom was a UxD lead), specifically lost business because even men were concerned about the lack of women at our company.

    I'm at a loss as to what to do. I can't write in a cover letter, "I don't want kids and my husband has a vasectomy," now can I? And thanks to the depressingly anti-women politicians who were voted in during the 2010 election, the past two years have offered an unprecedented number of anti-women bills, many of which have passed. This is one of the most depressing, degrading, and difficult times to be female in American history.

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