Lawrence Schneider | Crain's

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Lawrence Schneider

Background:  

Lawrence Schneider is an award-winning sculptor and the author of a new book, “Say Yes On Saturday,” a coming-of-age story based on his life. In 2014, he released his first book, “Insight in 3D: Ten Years of Sculpture,” which featured iconic sculptural designs and best practices for perfecting the craft. Before becoming a full-time writer, Schneider was a research engineer at NASA, where he developed rocket controls, and also worked as an aeronautical engineer at an aviation startup where he designed advanced airplanes. Schneider won the 2014 Visual Arts Award in the State of Maryland Governor’s Leadership in Aging competition.

The Mistake:

Following the crowd and desiring to be a manager, without considering the importance of job satisfaction and happiness.

This mistake started in the 1970s when I was working for the Social Security Administration as a planning analyst. I wanted to be a manager even before I joined the SSA, because I thought it would be more prestigious and have a better salary, and because that’s what all of my peers wanted. I prepared myself for a managerial position by getting a master’s degree in computer systems management. When I got to the SSA and had an opportunity to become a manager I decided to go for it.

Once I became a manager, I found out that I wasn’t very good at it. And the people who worked for me were pretty unhappy. Back in the mid-1970s management was taught as being more about things like planning and directing, and it wasn’t so much about leadership. The attitude was that the employees didn’t have to like you. As long as you could crack the whip and get them to do their job, because they were getting paid or because you were pushing them, that was good enough.

At that time there were studies done directed to the fallacy of that and the need for more leadership on the part of managers. I was, and am now, an introvert, and I knew I wasn’t good at leading people. When I took my first job as a manager I didn’t think it was a big deal and I thought I could just learn how to be a leader. A lot of that learning is possible, but it’s a lot easier if you have an aptitude, and I just didn’t have the aptitude.

Just because you want to do something and are willing to spend a lot of time learning how to do it, it doesn’t mean you can be successful at it. I was realizing a couple years after I was promoted to my first management job that I wasn’t a good manager because I didn’t have the aptitude to be a leader.

I didn’t consider what was good for me and what wasn’t good for me. And when I accepted the job, I was very unhappy.

But I kept doing it for years because the people I worked for thought I was doing great and they kept promoting me.

I was, and am now, an introvert, and I knew I wasn’t good at leading people.

The Lesson:

I learned that when you take a promotion, just because everybody else thinks it’s a good idea doesn’t mean it is. It has to be good for you, and sometimes it’s better to compromise.

Money and ego are usually the driving factors when you’re making a decision about whether or not to take a promotion. Most people will take a higher paying job, even if there are some downsides.

It’s difficult to advise somebody about this subject, but my advice would be that it’s more important to be happy in your work than it is to have a higher salary and recognition from your coworkers. When considering that advice, it helps to be more mature and have more experience, but that only comes with time.

A lot of it is psychological—it’s not always possible for everybody who moves ahead in their career to end up being happy. It’s a trade off, and a lot of people like me don’t consider all of the pros and cons before they make a decision; they just consider one or two that are the primary things.

In my case I didn’t consider career satisfaction back when I was offered my first management job because I didn’t know it would be an issue. Being self-aware, and thinking about your personality type and what you’re good at and what you like to do is part of making a career decision. It’s not just whether a job or a position will give you more pay.

Do you have a good story you’d like to share, or know someone we should feature? Email cberman@crain.com.

And be sure to sign up for your local newsletter from Crain's.