Do you really want to be a manager – finding a career path that fits for you

What drives your career – is it you, or is it someone else?

There’s a lot of forces at work when you’re choosing a career path, a lot of opinions and influences – maybe early on from your parents or maybe from someone at school, college or University who points out that you might be really good at x or y. Then when you get into work, there’s perhaps less advice on offer but still, there are big influences on your career – often from senior folk who might hand pick you for a project or role or who influence in some other way to open doors that take you in unexpected directions.

You may sometimes even come across a line manager who’s really good at having career conversations and who opens your eyes to opportunities that you hadn’t even considered up until that point. All of this is great. And all of this is other people’s opinions. And people’s opinions are influenced by their own agendas and experiences. So how can you find a career path that really feels like you, that takes you into a role which feels fulfilling, natural and enjoyable?

In this blog, I want to introduce you to a practical model that does just that. It will help you work out whether you’d prefer to be a manager, an expert, an entrepreneur or a whether you’d prefer to go it alone, or dedicate yourself to a cause, as well as several other things besides. I’ve been helping people make better career choices using this model for over 20 years and I am happy to tell you that it’s good. Very good.

Story 1: When you wish you’d made a better career choice

Let me start by telling you a couple of stories though which have really stuck with me, all using the model I’m going to talk to you about. You can use the model without completing any kind of questionnaire, but it works best if you do, so I’ll give you the link to that later.  The first one worth mentioning was a guy at a careers workshop I was running a few years back and once he’d realised that rather than following the traditional career path that had been put in front of him, he could have made different choices, he said to me at the end of the day, with just a smidge of regret in his voice, ‘Amazing, and I wish I’d known about this 15 years ago.’

Story 2: Cutting loose the corporate shackles

The second was someone I was working with who found that while he really enjoyed working in a team, as an increasingly senior manager, he really didn’t enjoy being part of a corporate structure – he found it too stifling and frustrating. When we worked through the model, he realised that his calling was much more to self-start and do his own thing. And so he did that, taking a big risk by striking out on his own. But it worked out very well, he’s found a way of keeping the connection with others that was important to him, but he far prefers being his own boss and doing things his way.

Story 3: Do you really want to be a manager, no matter how good you are it?

Lastly, I was working with someone who was at a point in her career where her employer was pushing her to become a line manager – ‘you’re such a good manager’, they’d say, ‘we can really see you becoming senior in the organisation.’ So she was torn as she knew they were right – she was organised, compassionate, a great connector and had all the skills to be able to become a senior manager in the organisation. But it wasn’t right for her. We did the questionnaire and reviewed her results and hey presto, the way she had answered suggested that her preferences for being a senior manager were almost zero. Sat at the top of her preference pile though was a desire to become a true expert in her field. And so she left the organisation, completed a Masters degree in her chosen area, and set herself up in business very successfully, doing what she loved doing best – working directly with clients in her areas of expertise and managing no one but herself.

Edgar Schein’s career anchors model – what, when, how?

So let me tell you a bit more about this method for helping you find a career path that fits. I’m not talking here about whether you should be a Doctor, or a pilot, or a software developer, or a shepherd. It’s not the content of the career that I’m talking about here. Instead, I’m talking about a method to help you identify the main thing that you want your career to give you, whatever field of endeavour you’ve chosen.

The model was created by a management researcher and psychologist called Edgar Schein, originally in the 1980s, he then extended it in the 90s. And it still works today. If you google Edgar Schein (that’s S-c-h-e-i-n – although TBH some websites misspell his name even though they’re clearly ripping off his product) career anchors tool, you’ll find some sites where you can complete it. But I highly recommend that you complete the tool for US$40, that way you get the full handbook (which is a masterpiece of a reference document BTW) as well as a complete report on your anchors. That can be found at

Career anchors – there can be only one

So, according to Professor Schein, you only have one career anchor. And if it isn’t quite clear to you which one is yours yet, that may be because you need to experience a wider range of options before you land on your one. He says that it needs to be just one because that brings the clarity and focus you need to make the best career choices. So that when an opportunity comes up, you can always ask yourself – but does it have enough of my career anchor in it or is it going to end up frustrating or limiting me?

What then are Ed Schein’s career anchors?  There are eight and they are: Technical and functional competence; General managerial competence; Autonomy and independence; Security and stability; Entrepreneurial creativity; Service and dedication to a cause; Pure challenge; and Lifestyle.

The all-important definitions

Once you have the definitions of each – and I’m going to summarise them in a sec, but many of the sites online describe the career anchors model will have more comprehensive definitions – you can start considering which anchor or anchors describe you best in terms of what you really really want in a career. Remember, there can be only one.

Back to the model – here are the definitions:

  1. Technical and functional competence – is being an expert in your field…having the knowledge and skill that marks you out as a specialist in your area of expertise
  2. General managerial competence – is being motivated to take on increasingly senior managerial roles with more influence so that you become responsible for a team, a business unit, area or even organisation
  3. Autonomy and independence – this concerns defining work your way, avoiding organisational restrictions and rules and keeping control over what you do
  4. Security and stability – is defining career success by staying in your job a long time and being loyal to your employer so that they are loyal to you
  5. Entrepreneurial creativity – may sound similar to autonomy and independence but this anchor is about building businesses through your own efforts and making them financially successful
  6. Service and dedication to a cause – as you’d expect, this anchor is focused on making a positive difference in the world by dedicating your time to a worthy cause, whatever that may be for you
  7. Pure challenge – this anchor is about newness, variety, difficulty and challenge. It requires that you continuously push yourself to new levels of difficulty in your career
  8. Lifestyle – for those people with a lifestyle anchor, the one thing they would not compromise on is the balance between their work life and their life life; they define their success more broadly than just through work goals.

My top tips for getting the most from the career anchors model

As you may have picked up from those descriptions, your career anchors are related to your values too, that is those things that you value and are most important to you. So how can you use this model for yourself and when you’re supporting other people to pick a career path that fits for them? My main tip is to go to the questionnaire and complete it, because that will give you the best and most accurate sense of which the most important anchor is for you. My second tip is to get super-familiar with the model so that you can identify which elements really speak to you or whoever it is that you’re helping. Once you’ve nailed that, you can have an excellent discussion not just on which career anchor means the most to you but why it means the most to you. And that brings in much more information about your values, your experiences, your strengths, when you felt most alive and when you really didn’t. Which is my third tip – talk about it, bounce it about, talk to a few people whose opinion you really value; ideally, people who don’t have an agenda apart from to be a supportive sounding board to you.

Closing thoughts – is it worth it? Er, yeh

In the end, the model is a framework to help people make more conscious, informed choices about where to take their careers, rather than having their careers take them off down various unfulfilling dead ends. The career anchors model is a very strong recommend from me – well-researched, practical, real, and gets to the truth of what makes people’s careers tick. I do feel a bit like this podcast has been brought to you by Edgar Schein Enterprises Incorporated but I’m here to tell you, that there’s nothing in this recommend for me apart from me helping you. Hopefully you’ve got enough to start with, just with those short descriptions of each anchor. Good luck making more conscious career choices. Till next time, stay strong.