Leading a high-profile team can be exhilarating, a source of personal growth that propels a career and helps change a company. But it's also a choice — and for some people it can be the wrong choice.
For two years, Jim Crain, 40, worked as a team leader at Farmers Insurance Group in Portland. And for two years the former underwriter was miserable. "I had bloody knuckles," he says. "The big joke on our team was 'We don't have a pilot — who wants to fly the plane?'"
Wisely, Crain bailed out. Today he sells insurance at a nearby agency, happy to be working independently and relying on his own skills. Many team leaders, at some point, will be tempted to follow Crain's path. They'll ask questions that thousands of other people ask: Am I cut out for this? If this is progress, why aren't I enjoying myself?
Experts offer several pieces of advice as you struggle with these questions. First, don't give up too early; it's easy to mistake growing pains for more serious problems. Second, be tough-minded about how you derive professional satisfaction.
"Ask yourself, 'Do I enjoy helping others make a contribution rather than making a contribution myself?'" urges teamwork consultant Kimball Fisher. "If you have a service orientation and love seeing the team pull together, you'll be great. But if you're oriented to individual achievement, a leadership role might be difficult."
If all attempts at enjoying your leadership role fail, he says, it may be time to get out. "Most people go through a difficult transition period," he says, "and you want to get far enough into the role to know you're past that stage. But it's dangerous to wait too long."
True enough, says Learning Point's Mark Christensen. But he urges people not to rush the decision. "Often, becoming a team leader doesn't feel like a promotion," he says. "The rewards don't feel commensurate with the responsibility you feel. But you need to stay with it. The rewards won't come immediately, but they will come."
A version of this article appeared in the June/July 1997 issue of Fast Company magazine.