Over 10 years ago, when I started my professional career, working as an individual contributor, I couldn’t wait to become a manager. It sounded so cool – to have a team, to lead, to create strategy, run meetings, build agendas. Little did I know of the downsides of being in one of those fancy management roles.
Don’t get me wrong, I love being a manager, and all the great things that come with the role – team, impact, benefits, comp, learning, status (in random order). It’s what I’m great at and will continue to practice it as long as I can build teams or teams invite me to lead them towards greener pastures.
Starting out as individual contributor
Coming back to my younger days, when I was IC-ing, I took something for granted that I soon saw going away as I rose in ranks. People saw me as one of them, and treated me openly and freely. I would get invited to every party and every going out group. I would hang out with the cool people and be able to rant about our managers (yeah, we did that, I know all team members at some point rant about their managers).
Manager roles in the US
That went on for the longest of times. When I moved to the US, I joined a tech startup as their Growth Manager. I helped them grow the team and recruit a lot of the people in the San Francisco office. As we grew, both the company and I felt the need to specialize and I went to focus on Marketing only, becoming Director. That’s when things started to change. Since I was hanging out with the founders, the VPs and Directors, I was no longer part of the group. I had become management and people started treating me like one.
When I moved on to another company, again, I started with more of an IC role. In a few months, however, I had recruited my team and had become Director again. Same story, there was the management layer which kind of hung out together, and shared stories. Everyone else had their own separate group. Sometimes I would get invited to the other group, but it was not the same as 2009.
It’s little things like who hangs out with you at the lunch table or goes out to get coffee with you that change, too. The otherwise rowdy table might quiet down a little when you want to join. Or people might not even want to sit with you in case you start asking about customers, projects stuff related to their day-to-day.
When you’re a manager, you also can’t just party like everyone else. We set examples of what the company culture should be. If we party until dawn at company events, or overcharge corporate cards, this sends the wrong message to everyone else. Sure, you’re not going to be as cool as the life of the party, but it’s easier to lead if you haven’t lost face the night before.
I’m not even going to talk about romantic relationships at work as a manager. There’s no such thing as a no-consequences one.
Loneliness, career growth, support
This part of management is rarely talked about. It’s a lonelier journey, as you get higher and higher in roles and responsibilities. Some people get there and are surprised by the fact that everyone seems to be gone suddenly. I know I was. Some even get depressed or anxious about it, and I can understand why. I think we have to talk about it more openly. We have to embrace that what leaders in organizations are doing is hard, both professionally and personally. And there’s often little support for it.
I’m lucky to be married to someone who understands this and whom I can talk to about my professional life. Not everyone is. Life at the top comes at a cost, and work social interaction is one of them.
For me, I found my groups outside of work, too.
Photo by Joshua Earle on Unsplash