Q: I'm considered a top performer in my technical field, and am now being pushed toward management roles. The problem is, I like what I'm doing and am not interested in "moving up." How can I portray this in a positive way so that my company doesn't think I'm unengaged?
A: Consider your reasons for staying put, while also keeping an open mind longer term.
The inner game
Nice compliment! Underperformers are not encouraged to move to the next level, so it is a tangible expression of your status at your organization. However, it should not have to become a mandate and you don't really have to justify why you like your current role and prefer to stay in it.
That said, the more you can create a positive message that helps others understand your current preference, the better. And note I said "current preference." More on that later.
To get started, think about the things you like about your current role, what you like about them and why. For example, you may really like the problem-solving aspect of your role because of the challenge, the contribution you make, the recognition you receive, or all of the above. As you work through this, focus on understanding the strongest drivers of your work satisfaction, and consider how they match up with your company's needs.
Also consider ways your current role could be made even better. Would you like more opportunities to develop your technical expertise? To have visibility in the industry in the form of publications and/or speaking events? Fewer administrative responsibilities? Or to mentor others?
Now think long range. You're just coming into the middle of your career, and your preferences are likely to change. Projecting out several years, imagine yourself in a diverse array of futures — your current role, management in your current company, working in a different kind of firm, teaching your skills … imagine that anything is possible. This will help you communicate your personal vision, and enable you to talk about a future that could include evolving roles.
Finally, consider if maybe, just maybe, fear of failure is holding you back. Sometimes moving out of your comfort zone is the right step.
The outer game
As you're most concerned with how you're perceived, focus on your demeanor at work. The risk is that in resisting change, you've had a negative tone and may be coming off as defensive. If you're showing engagement and enthusiasm for your work, and commitment to your team and the company, you're not likely to damage your reputation. Concentrate on this day-to-day regardless of the role you have.
In addition, set up an opportunity for an in-depth conversation with your boss. Don't be afraid to have a long-range view that you share, as well as your vision for the more immediate contributions you could make.
Reach out to others for ongoing support, too. Seek mentors to help you grow and to challenge your assumptions.
The last word
The clearer you are on what you want and why, the better those around you will understand and support you.
What challenges do you face at work? Send your questions to Liz Reyer, leadership coach and president of Reyer Coaching & Consulting in Eagan. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.