Good day everyone,

I am somewhat hesitant to ask this question as it might provide embarrassing; thoughts to follow. BLUF: Why do I want to be an effective executive? Why an executive at all? Executive as defined as a V or C level management, correct? Is a (plain old) manager good enough? An effective manager? (Bottom line up front. See? I have been listening!!! Dude, Mark said he would hate me for a moment if I put this question at the end….)

I am not yet a manager. I am trying to attain the role and am utilizing this material in much of my daily life. I am just now, at the age of forty, getting my act together and consuming/absorbing manager tools and systems that will help me be not only more effective in my personal life, but in my career. Drucker, David Allen’s GTD, and someone was kind enough to point out that I should go to and start listening to your podcasts en masse. I have been fortunate to have access to this resource and I find the suggestions very helpful. Perhaps it has been my personal lack of motivation, perhaps my laziness, or perhaps my misfortune to have made it through a bachelors degree, and nearly 20 years in the software industry and not have been exposed to much of your content. Add to this that I am one of those people who sometimes needs the obvious spelled out to me and I find Manager Tools material to be a gold mine. Thanks to one and all at Manager Tools for your efforts and your insights. I am just now setting my sights higher than being a subject matter expert. I want to climb that corporate ladder. I have no direct reports, but I want some. I think.

I am someone who strives to be at the front of the pack. I like to be the lead dog. So often I am more organized than most, I set trends, I try to do things the right way. My father was a physician, my mother was an RN with a PhD. Needless to say, as a child I was driven and educated. (at least I thought) I feel confident that I understand the raw competitive drive to be on top and to want to climb the corporate ladder. I want to be the most proficient. One thing that I hear repeatedly in various sources, and I have heard Mark say several times, “This is what the effective executives do, so you should do it too.”; Why do I want to be an executive? The effective part I understand; as of my 40th birthday being effective in all parts of your life has resonated with me. But do I really want to be an executive? I am loath to suggest that I might be complacent with being a manager. (or the dreaded ‘middle manager’)

But am I right to think that the competitive spirit should be the only drive? What makes one want to be an executive? Or more to the point, an executive more than a manager? Or a manager more than just a contributor? The money? The ‘power’? Those both come with headaches, long hours, more responsibility and greater stress. Several of the contributors in my office have not listened to your casts and are not looking at things from a managerial point of view. I have heard on more than one occasion, “Jeez, I could run this place better than those guys…” Is the point to climb the ladder to the point where you finally have enough role power that you can effect change? And when you do effect change you finally get to do it ‘your way’? I would think that an effective executive would learn along the way that there are several tried and true ways of getting things done. Perhaps suggesting the idea to kick over the apple cart might be different when you are the owner of the apple cart. I would posit that when you eventually gain enough role power to effect the change you want that the changes won’t be that dramatic.

So why the motivation to be an executive? And if it really is that you are smart enough, or competitive enough, or foolhardy enough to want to run the place….why not start your own company and promote yourself to boss right out of the gate? (impossible for many I know, but it does solve the whole, “If ~I~ was the boss” dilemma.)

I hope this post doesn’t make me sound like a blathering idiot. If it does, it won’t be the first time—it certainly won’t be the last. This topic has been weighing heavily enough on my mind that I felt the need to ask, even if I look the fool. Maybe everyone else knows the answer to this and I am alone in not having this clue… Perhaps it is the age old question of what I want to be when I grow up. The first 40 years of childhood are the hardest.

Is it just a giant game of King of the Hill? (Be nice to people on the way up, you will see those same people on the way down…) Is it that the person with the most at the end wins? Is it the sentiment, “Anything you can do, I can do better—and I can PROVE IT!”? I am struggling with some of these issues. There is an itching at the back of my head that suggests that the next question I should ask is, “And what do I do once I get there?” (VP, CIO, CEO, etc…) But that might be pushing it…

Thank you for taking the time to read this post. I do appreciate your products and the valuable insights Manager Tools provide to my daily life. I struggle with this and wanted to reach out and test the waters to see what sort of response I might get.

Thank you for your time and understanding,


buhlerar's picture

I'm sure there's no simple answer to your question, and I hope this topic generates a good discussion because my comments will be incomplete, if wordy.

I initially try to approach things like this with a "why rule it out?" mentality. The point is, you can't just decide you want to be an executive and automatically be one. You have to prepare in order to have the opportunity, and then you can decide later whether to let the opportunity pass if you don't want it after all. You'll probably never know for sure -- you may find management really suits you. If not, you'll at least come away with a much better appreciation for the difficulties facing your manager, which may help give context to some decisions that were previously a source of never-ending frustration.

Second, I think the point is to be effective -- in your sphere. The term "executive" certainly has a specific corporate connotation, but certainly you have a realm, large or small, over which you exercise control or influence. Even as an IC, you may be asked at any time to lead a project or organize a meeting, etc. Corporate culture tends to draw a bright line between IC and management, but in reality there are a lot of tasks that easily cross back and forth across that line, and much of your work will eventually involve manager/executive-like activities. Might as well be effective while doing them.

Personally, I don't consider myself a gifted manager, but one thing I have going for me is that I do care about being a good manager, which led me to find Manager Tools. I'm sure this knowledge barely puts me on par with people who are "naturally" good managers, so I'm no shining beacon of management goodness, but we've all seen (and probably suffered through) ineffective management or executive behavior. I feel a lot of satisfaction knowing that I can at least move the needle in the right direction.

Within a few months of finding MT, I had to lay off my first employee. A few years later the company went into bankruptcy and I had to lead a team for two years before laying off my entire group (and getting laid off myself). Until this experience, I probably thought of management, at least in part, as a reward for success at my previous level. This wasn't an issue of life or death (although in rare instances management can be), but it was a source of major stress for lots of families, and I now realize how much value there is in having an outsized influence on the quality of other people's lives.

If you want to magnify your influence (hopefully for good) then joining the management or executive ranks can be quite fulfilling.

TSchow's picture

                 Ultimately your motivation is up to you and what you want to get out of learning good management theory. 

                 My background and motivation.  I stumbled upon this podcast looking for while I was looking for some information on how to talk with my managers. I went through a lot of podcasts to be surprised about the amount of great information, and the format in which its presented. Shortly after listening to the podcasts and taking the advice of my wife I started taking some manager classes I started understanding what was being said on the podcasts, and I was communicating more effectively with my managers.

                As far as promotions realistically there are only a limited amount of managerial positions, and what it takes to become a manager might not be what is valued at the company. But the individual contributor can more effectively manager themselves and their own projects. Peter Druker is a good place to start.

                Currently my plan is to apply good management techniques to myself and sphere of influence learning where these techniques work. If you do not make management then at least you can manage your career to the best of your ability. Which in itself is a worthwhile motivation, and worthy achievement.