Who wants to lead, and who doesn’t?

A new CareerBuilder survey — conducted by Harris Poll — suggests that most American workers do not see themselves as future managers: only 34% are aiming leadership positions, and only 7% aspire to senior level management.

One large spread is between women and men, with men 11% more like to want a leadership role. This picture grows more complicated when sexual orientation is brought into the picture: 44% of LGBT seek those roles.



The underlying divide is really about work/life balance, and perhaps the stress associated with managerial  work:

A majority (52 percent) say they are simply satisfied in their current roles, and a third (34 percent) don’t want to sacrifice work life balance. Seventeen percent say they do not have the necessary education.


The ‘Other’ category in this survey is a large gap. I hope they explore that more deeply in a subsequent follow-up.

Presumably, those with the highest aspirations for management are less satisfied with their current role and less concerned about work/life balance. Note that child rearing hits heterosexual women hardest (yes, I know that people in the LGBT demographic do have children to rear, but that is at a considerably lower rate than heterosexuals).

But there is also the glass ceiling: one in five workers believe that women and minorities are held back from management roles because of race or gender. But the numbers skew when you zoom in on those that aspire to leadership roles. The percentage that believe a glass ceiling is holding people back rises to 24%, and the various demographic groups who are likely to face such discrimination see even higher numbers: females (33%), Hispanics (34%), African Americans (50%) and workers with disabilities (59%). The one oddball number is LGBT workers, 21% of which believe in the glass ceiling.

The aspirations of the young and the acceptance of the old are clearly shown in this graph. It comes as no surprise that as time passes, those that are not in managerial roles increasingly are less likely to want to be, or expect to be.




My hunch is that the stark distinction between management and staff will decrease rapidly in the near future, as workers in general acquire more autonomy in the fast-paced, agile, and lean workplace of the near future. The rise of leanership, or emergent leadership, where (like everything else)  leadership is decentralized, discontinuous, and distributed, will change the binary nature of being a manager to more of a spectrum of modalities. A worker in a leanership culture might be the project lead on the Jones project, and an individual contributor in three others. And after a few months, as the Jones project winds down, she might simply contribute for a few months before assuming a lead role again.

The idea of leadership will become more fluid and flexible, to match the way the world wags. That could sidestep some of the issues of work/life balance, since taking on added responsibilities doesn’t mean a long-term disruption, but instead a shorter tour of duty.

The industrial distinction between leaders and followers, or management and labor, need to be transformed by a new egalitarian work ethos into something else entirely, something that brings out the best in all, and allows each of us to manage both a career and a life, without feeling excluded or exploited. A tall task and a deep revolution to undertake.