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3 Questions to Help an Employee Who Thinks They Want to Be a Manager

juggling responsibilities when you are a manager

So, another employee thinks they want to be a manager, huh? A lot of people do.

From a distance, the status, influence, power, and salaries can look pretty attractive. But up close – standing in your shoes – the experience can be very different! In fact, many managers in my workshops describe the experience as a pressure cooker of stress and political issues. Long hours. No overtime. Having to stand behind decisions and directions you might not agree with. Constantly feeling caught between a rock (the organization) and a hard place (your employees). That’s likely the life you live too. It’s not all roses. And it’s not for everyone.

So how can you help individual contributors who are excited about pursuing a management role to realistically evaluate the opportunity? How can you help them engage in the soul-searching required to ensure success? And how can you do it without squashing their souls or their enthusiasm? These three questions offer a framework that can focus their exploration, deepen their understanding, and reinforce your desire to support their growth.

QUESTION #1: What’s your motivation?

For many, the desire to move up has little to do with the new role or the nature of the work, but rather some other interests and needs. For instance, do they want to be able to set a strategy and imagine that a promotion will enable that? Are they looking for greater visibility? Influence? Control over their schedule or work? A salary bump?

All of these are legitimate needs and wants. But the title of manager may not deliver on them. I remember when I took on my first supervisory role… and wow, was I in for a rude awakening. I had less – not more – control over my schedule and workload. Those early manager roles were considerably more tactical than strategic. When I drew upon my best leadership self, I was drawing positive attention to others, not myself. And to be honest, the salary difference didn’t make up for the additional hours and stress. You have likely had similar experiences.

If the employee’s motivation isn’t aligned with the fundamental role of a manager – to guide, enable, and support the performance, development, and well-being of those whom they lead – then they may want to think again. The emotional labor can far exceed the rewards if a deep desire to lead isn’t animating their interest.

But giving up on management doesn’t mean giving up on their needs. Work with the employee to find creative strategies to meet those needs within the context of their current role. Maybe there’s a way to elevate their visibility, increase decision-making authority, or offer more scheduling flexibility – whatever they were hoping that being a manager might accomplish for them – without having to take on the role.

QUESTION #2: What are you looking forward to doing most when you become a manager?

When I ask this of aspiring managers, I frequently get that deer-in-the-headlights look. Many people don’t know – because they’re just reflexively looking up the corporate ladder for what’s next. If that’s your employee, help them pause – and consider the activities that will bring them satisfaction when they become a manager. Help them think through the interactions they’ll have. The challenges they’ll be drawn into. The skills they look forward to developing.

Then, encourage them to check their assumptions and anticipations out with other managers in the organization. Although you can certainly share your perspectives, your peers – who have no stake in the outcome – are in a unique position to help them objectively calibrate their expectations.

If after this they’re still interested, you and the employee can work together to find ways for them to test-drive the experience before taking on the role. For instance, if they’re looking forward to helping a team grow, deputize them to onboard or coach new employees and make sure the experience of developing others is what they’re imagining. I can’t tell you how many very short-term managers have told me about how different – and disappointing – the experience of being promoted turned out to be – and how they’d wished they’d known more going in.

QUESTION #3: Are you ready to start getting work done through others rather than doing it yourself?

As you know, shifting one’s orientation from performing tasks to attending to people and processes is central to a successful transition. Aspiring managers must quickly come to terms with the fact that their success now lies in guiding, mentoring, and enabling their team’s accomplishments, rather than executing tasks on their own.

This evolution can be particularly challenging for your top performers who are accustomed to excelling as individual contributors. The journey from driving personal achievements to fostering collective success can be unnerving. Aspiring managers must be ready to relinquish direct control over tasks and embrace a broader view of their impact and even of how they define progress and success. So, help people understand that if they’re not ready to let go of doing the work themselves, they may want to look for ways to enhance their current role rather than step into management.

These three questions allow you to help others consider their motivation, expectations, and readiness… so that they can move forward – eyes wide open, and ready to drive their own success and the success of the team that will ultimately call them ‘boss’. And you’ll have demonstrated one of a manager’s greatest contributions by developing this employee.

This post originally appeared on SmartBrief.