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Why you should give yourself a demotion this year: The art of strategic downshifting

© 2010 Avocationist · January 26th, 2010 · 5 Comments

Shifting Down to Save TimePhoto by Roby Ferrari

Have you completed employee reviews in the last month? Did it feel like a good use of your time? Did you feel like you were really building value in your company or did you feel like you were checking off a box on someone else’s cover-my-butt list?

Be honest.

When your Outlook calendar is completely colored in and you don’t know what half of the meetings are, you should probably start to think about giving yourself a demotion.

I’ve been inspired reading Seth Godin’s new book “Linchpin” which launches today. (Buy it here. I love the book because you can dive in anywhere and pick up some uncomfortably challenging advice.)

In the spirit of Seth's book, I offer my favorite way to free up time while making a bigger impact at work...

One of Seth’s most uncomfortable sections (for those of you in corporate jobs) is on the commoditization of white-collar jobs. If you are just checking off other people’s boxes you are putting yourself at unnecessary risk of becoming just like any other middle manager. Which means that you can be replaced with any other middle manager.

Instead, Seth challenges each of us to become a Linchpin:

The linchpin is an individual who can walk into chaos and create order, someone who can invent, connect, create and make things happen. Every worthwhile institution has indispensable people who make differences like these.

If you are sitting in someone else’s meetings all week you aren’t becoming indispensable.

You are in a career holding pattern at best and in danger of a career death spiral at worst.

Working more hours will just make it harder for you to make a big contribution. You need a way to focus your efforts on something that will challenge you and bring real value to your company, without requiring another 30 hours of meetings each week.

Here’s my radical suggestion for creating more time and flexibility in your job: give yourself a demotion from management to a position where you can directly make a strategic contribution. I call this “strategic downshifting”.

Just like downshifting in a car, this gives you more power and control. It also makes your engine rev higher and gives you faster acceleration. That is to say, you can create a place where you can be excited about your work again.

I’ve done this three times in my career and I know of dozens of others who have had similar experiences. There are several factors to a successful downshift:

  • Find a place where you are excited and can see new possibilities
  • After we sold a company where I was VP of Sales & Marketing, I was excited about applying our new parent company’s licensing business model to our old industry. I knew it was a chance to influence a significant change in the way optics were sold for cell phone cameras. But I couldn’t do it from my management role. Instead, I took responsibility for leading the business development efforts by myself with no team.

  • Look at previous jobs to find great launching pads
  • Bob got passed over for a promotion early in his career at GE. Instead of continuing to press for a management role, he focused his productivity on inventing new products. He had a happy, sane 40 year career there and was awarded over 50 patents. (The guy who beat him out for the management job was let go 6 months later in a restructuring effort).

  • Build a new constituency to support your efforts
  • Work with your management to ensure a graceful transition. Even more importantly, make sure that you have support from people excited about what you will be doing in your new (old) role. They can help smooth over any resistance you encounter.

  • Watch out for the pull back into management
  • Traditional advice says that taking a step backwards on the career ladder means that you are done for. This is exactly the opposite of my experience. I have found that the wisdom and passion you bring to a downshifted role tends to bring results and recognition. My shift to a direct sales role netted me a bonus within 6 months.

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Tags: Career Advice · Career Change · Corporate Jobs · Mid-Life Career Change · Sales

5 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Warren Whitlock // Jan 26, 2010 at 2:30 pm

    We usually spend our days trying to push for more. Thanks for the rninder that sometimes a downshift is morenpwerful

  • 2 Patty Newbold // Jan 26, 2010 at 4:31 pm

    Great idea, Allan. I downshifted in 1990 - went from division manager to president in title, but got myself back to working directly with my performance improvement clients and loved it!

  • 3 Edward Philipp // Jan 27, 2010 at 12:23 pm


    I can appreciate your ideas on "art of strategic downshifting". Maybe this is the core of why I prefer being part of a small business and the linch pin. Everything counts with no punching other peoples' tickets.

  • 4 David Rendall // Jan 28, 2010 at 9:29 pm

    Great stuff. I quit my management job in 2004 to become a college professor. The demotion gave me time to start my own business and pursue my passion. It was the best decision that I ever made. I hope your post convinces other people to take a strategic demotion.

  • 5 Elad Sherf // Jan 31, 2010 at 1:10 pm

    Allan, this is a great post. I really think that the myth that success in business means becoming a manager is a just what it is – a myth. It is time to be where we can really make a difference, and for a lot of people, it is not a management role. Thanks for the inspiration: http://tinyurl.com/yaxo2yb

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