When you want to climb the career ladder, your goal is generally to land in management. Senior management if you can.
Being the boss is awesome. You get to present your ideas. People want your approval. You get to decide which projects go forward and which are killed. Sounds like a dream come true.
However, being the boss can be super hard. There's a reason managers get paid (generally) more than individual contributors. Here are the downsides to being the boss.
You Have to Fire People
It's not like on a television show where the person is such a screw-up and the boss is so indignantly righteous that firing the person is the only logical thing to do.
Most firings are far more complex than that. I've helped many a manager fire or layoff employees, and there's not a single person that enjoyed it.
In the case of a layoff, you're taking a good person, a good employee and sometimes, a good friend, and yanking their income and self-esteem out from under them.
It's painful, and it stinks. In the case of a termination for poor performance, you're sometimes tasked with terminating someone who is trying very hard and just can't do the job effectively.
The only time firing decisions are easy is when the employee has done something that counts as gross misconduct, like stealing.
Then it's pretty easy to kick that person to the curb, but you still feel guilt about taking away someone's job (even it's their own darn fault), and you question your own management skills.
You Have to Hire People
Hiring can be fun. If you're a new manager, for the first time in your life you get to pick who you work with. You can pick people who have the skills you think are critical.
Sounds great. Except that hiring can be hard. You can get a hundred applicants, none of whom have the skills you really want, so you have to compromise.
If you're not a talented interviewer (and even if you are), a good talker can pull the wool over your eyes, and you end up with someone who's not a great fit.
When you choose one candidate over another, you can end up second guessing yourself. And then, what if that person doesn't work out?
Whose fault is it? Well, yours. It's high stress.
The Buck Stops Here
When you're the big boss (whether you're the CEO or just the department head), everything comes down to you. You're the one who has the final say.
You're the one who signs off on things. When the financials stink, it's your fault. Sure, you can blame your staff for their incompetence, but remember, you hired them (or didn't fire them).
You set the priorities. You chose where to put your best employees and where to put your worst ones. Sure, you get praised when things go great, but when they don't? You're answering to your boss, whether that be someone in the company or the board of directors.
Gone are the days when you could work nine to five and just go home. You're always thinking about what needs to be done next. You're also painfully aware that your employee's dinner table conversations are about you.
Hopefully, they are positive, but often they are not. Not because you're a horrible person, but because you see the big picture and often your direct reports only see their small corner.
You can alleviate some of that problem by sharing information, but complete openness is often impossible and even with it, some people just don't understand.
You thought it was bad pushing paper from one side of your desk to the other side, what about when you are the person responsible for getting other people to do that? Finance has their requirements. HR has their requirements. And that alphabet soup known as government agencies? Shudder.
Let's talk about OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration), Sarbox (Sarbanes-Oxley Act), the FDA, EPA, and a million other government agencies you might be stuck with.
You have to comply with all regulations, internal and external, and you may not understand why. In reality, there often isn't a good why, you just have to do it.
And if you need something like a new headcount? Prepare to have to make your case to layers of management and human resources. Prepare to do battle with your peers for increased budgets. While you're slogging through all this mess, the work still has to get done.
Some employees are awesome, but even awesome employees get the flu, have babies, and want to take vacations. It's your responsibility to plan for all that.
You've also got the not so awesome employees who believe in whining, lie about having the flu, and have a grandparent die every holiday weekend, which requires a three-day extension. Such a coincidence.
You have to figure out the truth, not play favorites, give accurate performance reviews and fair raises. You have to be cognizant of everything that comes out of your mouth.
A little joke that you think is harmless makes someone think you're prejudiced against their race, gender or national origin.
You have to give people hard feedback and finance's freeze on raises means that you're best employee is going to leave you for a promotion elsewhere.
If you're not huddled in the corner right now, congratulations. You might have what it takes to be a great manager.