In 2010, Adam Bryant of The New York Times interviewed Paul Maritz, the president and C.E.O. of the software firm VMware. The interview touched upon many subjects relating to leadership. The topic that resonated with me were when Maritz discussed the change in nature of a leadership position as you lead a larger group of people.
Speaking from his own experience, Maritz explains how when you go from being an individual contributor to being a leader of a small group of 5 to 10 people, to leading 100 people, to leading 1,000 people, to leading 10,000 people, the nature of your job changes at each of those points. Maritz went on to explain how as you manage bigger groups of people, you cannot be as closely connected to specific underlying issues and challenges and you have to realize that your contribution becomes more symbolic, in the sense that you’re trying to set a general direction. Finally Maritz remarks that every time you cross one of those boundaries, you become less of a specialist, less knowledgeable about specific issues.
I find this trade-off that Maritz hints at interesting as it is true and not many people consciously think about it. Leadership or management positions are often seen as more desirable and sought after as the natural progression of a corporate career. However, management positions are essentially just that, managing and leading others. The larger that leadership role becomes the smaller your role as a specialist must become. I think more people, including myself, should consider that there are more than one path to finding fulfillment in a career and that path may not be working your way through management positions. Some may want to focus more on becoming more specialized in a certain skill or area, as those skills are just as invaluable to company as leadership skills. If a company was comprised of just bosses, no one would have the essential hard-skills to get anything done.