FIRST CLASS COACH - I started work as soon as I graduated and have been steadily promoted ever since. Now it looks as though I'm in line for a senior management role. The trouble is, I'm not sure I want to become corporate man. Should I try something else

by MIRANDA KENNETT, managing coach at The Coaching House and afounding partner of The Management Due Diligence Co
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

I started work as soon as I graduated and have been steadily promoted ever since. Now it looks as though I'm in line for a senior management role. The trouble is, I'm not sure I want to become corporate man. Should I try something else first?

It is not unusual for people to reach senior positions without ever really deciding that this is their desired destination. Because we all need recognition, and job offers and promotions provide acknowledgment, we often unconsciously let others chart our career paths. Eventually, however, we may come to the conclusion that we would like to choose our next job, rather than be chosen.

It's worth exploring why you're hesitating about the desirability of the next step up the ladder. Is it because the next rung doesn't look an inviting prospect? There's something else you'd much rather do? You're just bored?

Depending on your answer, there are a number of ways you could clarify what you really want to be true of the next phase of your professional life. One is to create a personal job balance sheet. On the plus side, list all the things you find satisfying and positive about your job. Don't forget to factor in things like security, fame and affection - less evident aspects of job satisfaction but important in the balance. Opposite, list the things you currently do that you'd prefer never to have to do, or only rarely.

Now think forward: what other areas are important to you that you'd like to figure in your working life? Add these to the positives. On the other side, put in the things that would change for the worse in this senior role. When you've got it all down, consider the two sides and where the balance lies. Compose a short paragraph that includes all the attributes of the work you would find most satisfying. You will then have created a template for yourself, against which you can evaluate this next opportunity and others that come your way, or that you make for yourself.

If your reticence about the promotion is based on a negative assessment of senior management and the way they operate, try to think beyond the present status quo. Perhaps your boss and others at his or her level are not maximising their roles and the positive influence they could have.

One of the great advantages of moving up the organisation is being able to shape the culture and to contribute to its direction. So just because you're not sure you like what you see ahead, don't assume you couldn't change things.

A good example of creating change as you go is Caroline Marland, until recently MD of Guardian Newspapers. Concerned for the wellbeing of staff, one of her major contributions in her 25 years with the paper, working up from a job in telesales, was to improve people practices. So when she passed the baton to her successor Carolyn McCall, the status of the company's 'employer brand' was the healthiest of any newspaper group.

Perhaps your issue is boredom and the predictability of the well-known.

The future role could provide a different perspective and a wider choice of avenues to explore, as well as a greater degree of autonomy. Several of my clients have expressed surprise at how different things look when they are closer to the top of their companies. They find the management role infinitely more involving and rewarding than they expected.

On the other hand, you may need to look beyond your main role for stimulation.

Is there some extra-curricular interest to which you'd like to devote more time? It could be a leisure interest or another business opportunity.

These days, employers are often more flexible in what they allow their managers to take on. Some positively welcome the chance for senior staff to widen their experience and to develop entrepreneurial skills.

Remember, every job offer is a two-way negotiation: you are being offered a role, a salary and benefits and in return your company wants you to bring energy and high competence to the tasks and responsibilities you take on. If there are factors that would increase the likelihood of your performing at a high level, both sides should find ways to include them in your package.

In the end, having completed your balance sheet exercise, you may decide that the dangled promotion isn't the right move for you and that it's time to step off the escalator. If so, you will be making a decision based on a proper evaluation of what's important to you.

Miranda Kennett is managing coach at The Coaching House and a founding partner of The Management Due Diligence Co.

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