All Articles Leadership Development Want to be a manager? Ask these 3 questions to be sure

Want to be a manager? Ask these 3 questions to be sure

When someone wants to move into a manager position, ask these 3 questions to see if they're ready, writes Julie Winkle Giulioni.

6 min read



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So, another employee thinks they want to be a manager, huh? A lot of people do. 

Julie Winkle Giulioni
Winkle Giulioni

The status, influence, power and salaries look attractive from a distance. But up close — standing in your shoes — the experience can be very different! Many managers in my workshops describe the experience as a pressure cooker of stress and political issues. Long hours. No overtime. Having to stand behind decisions and directions you might disagree with and constantly feeling caught between a rock (the organization) and a hard place (your employees). That’s likely the life you live too. It’s not all roses. And it’s not for everyone.

How can you help individual contributors excited about pursuing a management role evaluate the opportunity realistically? How can you help them engage in the soul-searching required to ensure success? And how can you do it without squashing their souls or their enthusiasm? These three questions offer a framework to focus their exploration, deepen their understanding and reinforce your desire to support their growth.

Question No. 1: What’s your motivation?

For many, the desire to move up has little to do with the new role or the nature of the work but rather some other interests and needs. For instance, do they want to be able to set a strategy and imagine that a promotion will enable that? Are they looking for greater visibility? Influence? Control over their schedule or work? A salary bump? 

All of these are legitimate needs and wants. But the title of manager may fail to deliver on them. I remember when I took on my first supervisory role, and, wow, was I in for a rude awakening. I had less — not more — control over my schedule and workload. Those early manager roles were considerably more tactical than strategic. When I drew upon my best leadership self, I drew positive attention to others, not myself. And to be honest, the salary difference didn’t make up for the additional hours and stress. You have likely had similar experiences.

If the employee’s motivation isn’t aligned with the fundamental role of a manager — to guide, enable and support the performance, development and well-being of those they lead – then they may want to think again. The emotional labor can far exceed the rewards if a deep desire to lead isn’t animating their interest. 

But giving up on management doesn’t mean giving up on their needs. Work with the employee to find creative strategies to meet those needs within their current role. Maybe there’s a way to elevate their visibility, increase decision-making authority or offer more scheduling flexibility — whatever they were hoping that being a manager might accomplish for them — without having to take on the role.

Question No. 2: What are you looking forward to doing most when you become a manager?

When I ask this of aspiring managers, I frequently get that deer-in-the-headlights look. Many people don’t know, because they’re just reflexively looking up the corporate ladder for what’s next. If that’s your employee, help them pause and consider the activities that will satisfy them when they become a manager. Help them think through the interactions they’ll have. The challenges they’ll face. The skills they look forward to developing. 

Then, encourage them to check their assumptions and anticipations with other managers in the organization. Although you can certainly share your perspectives, your peers — who have no stake in the outcome — are uniquely positioned to help them objectively calibrate their expectations. 

If they’re still interested after this, you and the employee can work together to find ways for them to test-drive the experience before taking on the role. For instance, if they’re looking forward to helping a team grow, deputize them to onboard or coach new employees and ensure the experience of developing others is what they imagine. I can’t tell you how many very short-term managers have told me how different — and disappointing — the experience of being promoted was – and how they’d wished they’d known more going in. 

Question No. 3: Are you ready to start getting work done through others rather than doing it yourself?

As you know, shifting one’s orientation from performing tasks to attending to people and processes is central to a successful transition. Aspiring managers must quickly accept that their success now lies in guiding, mentoring and enabling their team’s accomplishments rather than executing tasks independently.

This evolution can be particularly challenging for your top performers who excel as individual contributors. The journey from driving personal achievements to fostering collective success can be unnerving. Aspiring managers must be ready to relinquish direct control over tasks and embrace a broader view of their impact and even of how they define progress and success. So, help people understand that if they’re not ready to let go of doing the work themselves, they may want to look for ways to enhance their current role rather than step into management.

These three questions allow you to help others consider their motivation, expectations and readiness so they can move forward — eyes wide open and ready to drive their success and the team’s success that will ultimately call them boss. And you’ll have demonstrated one of a manager’s most significant contributions by developing this employee.


Julie Winkle Giulioni is a champion of growth and development in the workplace, helping leaders and organizations optimize the potential of their people. Named one of Inc. Magazine’s top 100 leadership speakers, she’s the author of the bestseller “Promotions Are So Yesterday” and co-author of “Help Them Grow or Watch Them Go: Career Conversations Organizations Need and Employees Want.” Learn more about her work at

Opinions expressed by SmartBrief contributors are their own. 


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