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11 Nov

How we think about management needs to change.

Stoa Daily Challenge #19

smallcase is an investment platform that provides retail investors baskets of stocks weaved around an investment idea.

Today, you will help Aniket Thakkar, VP of Marketing at smallcase, decide how to position the brand amongst competitors.

Play the challenge here.

Now, to today's issue.


The following is an anecdote from a construction company owner that I found on r/smallbusiness. I think it beautifully illustrates and cautions against a common fallacy, both in HR Management, and in thinking about one's career.

"I own a construction company in a different region, with a very different specialty, and have 28 full-time employees currently. I can only offer you general advice, so use the good parts and toss what's not so helpful.

Some of my employees are incredibly talented and skilled with their hands. They do great work and they can be trusted to execute tasks quickly and correctly. And it can be a terrible thing to promote these individuals into a leadership position.

I can end up burdening a great laborer with tasks related to handling personnel and materials, with the result being the effective loss of the skilled work, sub-par leadership, and frustrated crews and customers.

This matters in your situation because I believe you're a very skilled laborer when on your own. Don't assume you'll be a great crew leader; plus, when you step into that role then the jobs lose some of your excellent craftsmanship simply due to your crew is now doing most tasks. If you can, get yourself a skilled craftsman who's equal in skill to you; if one isn't available then you hire and develop that person. You can't be an effective crew leader until you've got that right-hand craftsman. This will let you take on jobs that require roughly 4-6 people.

When you're ready to grow bigger, you've (hopefully) developed your crew a bit, and can identify a crew leader who will replace you. That probably shouldn't be your most talented craftsman — the one you want to pick is the person who knows what tools and materials need to be at the site, how many people are required, and how long it'll take.

Leaders know what needs to be done, when, and with whom. They don't have to be exceptionally skilled at the physical work, so try to not value that too much. Only when you have a new crew leader can you start to build up a second crew where you'll act as more of a foreman."

Climbing the career ladder =/= Becoming a Manager

Not everyone wants to be a manager.Not everyone should be a manager.

As an employee, you might be lured into management simply because society views it as a jump in status and hierarchy. You're "climbing the career ladder" so to speak.  But do consider if management is actually something you would enjoy more than your individual contributor role.

Excellent individual contributors can often struggle to become good managers.

Great managers may not necessarily be the best individual contributors.

And perhaps, not all ICs should be forced to scale and become managers for career growth.But the good news is, this is already happening. Many organizations today, particularly those that seek to attract highly skilled or creative talent, have paths for advancement that don’t require managing others. A skilled neurosurgeon doesn't need to turn into a hospital general manager in order to make more money or have more impact — both expert surgeons and hospital managers are highly valued.

Similarly, in many tech companies today, roles like engineering or design offer parallel career paths once you reach a certain level of seniority — you can either grow as a manager or as an IC. Both tracks afford equal opportunities for impact, growth, and compensation up to the C-level.

And of course, we've all heard of the “10x engineer”—someone whose output is the equivalent of ten typical engineers. These are individual contributors but they command the same pay as directors and VPs managing dozens or hundreds of people.

Becoming a manager is not necessarily a promotion anymore.

It is a transition and a specialization, like any other individual contributor specializations like programming, design, writing, and marketing.

In fact, what is commonly observed is that the more a person takes pride in their craft, the more they desist from taking on a managerial role.

Great coders often want to keep coding. Great writers want to keep writing. Great designers want to keep designing. If kept away from getting their hands dirty for long, they start feeling a sense of isolation from what gives them joy.

If you force them into management by making it the only path where their pay can increase significantly, you will turn great craftspersons into unhappy, and perhaps, mediocre managers.

You don't want to do that.

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