I recently wandered into a neighborhood coffee shop for a little defocusing – and some of their Kenyan roast coffee and a fresh scone. While in line to place my order, my friend the unicorn walked in.

We had not intended to meet, it was just a happy chance. We sat down with our respective coffee and began talking. As happens sometimes, the ‘catching up’ developed into talking about something of interest. In this case, we found ourselves talking about motivation. We quickly set aside the stuff about “motivating people” and turned to forms of motivation – what motivates, maybe inspires, people to do work.

Most technical people we know who seek advancement and promotion into leadership or management positions fall into a few groups. Now, this isn’t a terribly scientific study, just what the unicorn and I have seen.

There are the folks who really don’t want to manage people and like having their hands dirty – they like the technical challenges that come with bigger titles and pay-grades.

Then there is the other major group – They want to lead beyond a technical perspective. They want to be “in charge”

The first type – These are the same type you find in very technical enlisted roles in the military – they soar through ranks at lightning speed. They display astounding prowess at tasks that others cannot comprehend. They show others how to do things, then dive in next to them in the doing – teaching their juniors what they are doing, how and why. They leave officers shaking their heads at how astoundingly well they do their jobs.

Until they get to the level where they “supervise” others. Then they don’t get to do what they really like doing. Then they watch other people do what they want to be doing. And the longer they are in, the higher the rank they achieve and the further they get from doing what they truly want to do. So they leave – they don’t reenlist.

In Corporate-Land, these same people, if they get assigned or promoted beyond “getting their hands dirty” and doing what they like doing, tend to resign and take another job. 

The second type – These are the folks who want to get into “leadership” positions. They are the movers and shakers and the up-and-comers in the organization.

Some folks have a negative view of everyone who is in this second, broad group. Neither the unicorn nor I can really fault people for having ambitions or desires. Nor could we really find fault with people wanting to get ahead and move up the ladder.

After all, if they are reasonably competent in technical roles, maybe – just maybe – they will remember what it was like in those roles as they move up in the organization chart.

For me, when dealing with managers or directors or other boss-types, I find it helpful if they have some appreciation of the challenges of the work done by technical folks, be it developers, DBAs, testers, whatever. While they may not be able to help from a technical perspective, they may be able to offer assistance in other ways, for example, running interference with other, less technical managers or functionaries.

People growing into roles that challenge them is an excellent thing. It is a desirable thing in my mind. Granted, the roles I have moved into have not been management ones. My forays into management have convinced me that I do not have the right “makeup” for managing others.

I salute those who do have that makeup and make full use of it. Indeed, I salute those managers who are motivated to manage others well, and help those they manage discover what it is that motivates them.

A third type – These folks who want to get into “leadership” positions for reasons I find to be less than honorable. Maybe you have heard that “Power Corrupts.” I find the question of why one seeks power to perhaps shine a light on just how true that is, or is not.

Some people have something less than altruistic motives. Some desire high rank for achieving their own ends – their own self-aggrandizement. In these instances, I suspect the corruption has already occurred – and the quest for power is, in fact, the motivation.

The unicorn blinked at me.

He said something to the effect that people have their own motivations. He chuckled (a scary sound, frankly) at the thought that some of these sounded like Death Eaters. I did stop a moment and consider.

I was reminded that individual people are motivated by different things and these generally are internal to each of them. Their motivation drives their choices and how they work, just as mine do.

I can accept or reject those motivations and actions based on my values and what I hold important.  I can also choose to not associate with those whom I find I can not support.