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Crucial Conversations QA

Stepping Down Gracefully

Dear Crucial Skills,

I thought I was ready to become a supervisor in my company so I applied and was given the job. However, after two and a half years in my job, I am discovering that I am either not ready or I feel so unsupported by my supervisor that I am now unwilling to continue in this position. Either way, I want to step down from my position gracefully and return to my old position while maintaining a strong relationship with my supervisor. Do you have any advice?

Stepping Down

Dear Stepping Down,

The corporate ladder and the designated career paths in most companies are usually well known and everyone understands that success is defined as a vertical climb. Having risen to the rank of supervisor, you have decided to step down from your position. I congratulate you for having the intelligence and good sense to recognize what you really want and the courage to pursue it. Good for you.

Now that you have decided to take that step, you ask how you can do it gracefully. You are wise to think this step through before acting. Because you are moving against the grain, management could easily misunderstand your reasons for stepping down. They might assume you lack loyalty to the company or that you are not grateful for the trust they have shown in you by promoting you. They could question your commitment to doing a good job. Most likely none of these stories are based on your performance; rather they are formed by the surprise of you going against expectations.

The conversation you have with your immediate supervisor and any other relevant managers is a crucial one. There’s a skill I recommend you use that clarifies your motives and thinking while reducing defensiveness in others. It’s simply called Share your Good Intentions.

To use this skill, state your decision to step down, your reasons, and your intentions going forward. You might say to your immediate boss, “I’ve decided not to continue in my position as a supervisor. I’ve worked very hard over the last two and a half years to do a good job, and I realize that I like being a producer, not a supervisor. I am committed to the success of the company and our team, and I want to add value. Going forward I believe I would do that best as a producer.”

This skill makes it clear that even though you don’t want to continue as a supervisor you have good will toward the company and the team and you will work to contribute in your new position. This helps to dispel any false stories or assumptions managers might otherwise be tempted to conclude.

Next, depending on your boss’s questions, you may need to explain your reasons in greater detail and help to plan the transition. Be sure to not leave your boss or your company in the lurch. Be flexible and willing to help in the change.

When you are open and clear about your decision and express your good intentions, others are less likely to misunderstand and your transition is likely to be both efficient and graceful.

All the best,
Ron

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Ron McMillan

Ron McMillan is a New York Times bestselling author, keynote speaker, and leading social scientist for organizational change. For thirty years, Ron has delivered engaging keynotes at major conferences including the American Society of Training and Development and the Society for Human Resource Management. Ron’s work has been translated into twenty-eight languages, is available in thirty-six countries, and has generated results for three hundred of the Fortune 500. read more

35 thoughts on “Stepping Down Gracefully”

  1. I think that the advice that you’ve provided is sound if we presume that the writer has actually discerned a more ‘truthful path’. However, within the question lurks a suggestion that there are unresolved conflicts with a supervisor that may be contributing to the writer’s poor performance and/or satisfaction. Managing those conflicts will be crucial to continued job satisfaction and may even need to be resolved before the writer can actually make a good decision about stepping down at all. There is wisdom that suggests one ought not to make a major life decision during a time of conflict. All the best.

  2. The advise provided works when there is mutual respect adn the “Stepper Down” was seen prior to supervision position as a “good producer.” As a supervisor, I actually took offense to the statement “I realize that I like being a producer, not a supervisor” since authentic leaders do produce and assure their team will have value added with the “step down” and will improve job satisfaction for all involved.
    Thank you

  3. Jim beat me to it… sounds like there are relationship issues with the supervisor that might well survive a decision to step down and possibly impact the writer’s satisfaction even in a non-supervisory position. Resolving that issue may well make the current job more rewarding, but even if they choose to step back to a prior role, it sounds like an issue that needs to be addressed.

  4. I think Jim has a great point. The writer needs to really know what is going on. Also, I am not sure I would chose the wording, “I like being a producer, not a supervisor.” Just in case someone takes you too literally, I would suggest these words are loaded with extra meaning…such as supervisors are non-producers. Just a thought!

  5. What an excellent article. I can see how this would be exceptionally useful when you are, as in this case, going against expectations. However, perfecting the skill of “sharing your good intentions” seems like it would be advantageous at any time to lessen the likelihood of others “making up stories”. Keeping people in the “pool of shared knowledge” seems, to me, to be a better use of time and energy than having to bring them back to it.

  6. I agree with Jim in that the writer needs to address the issue of feeling “so unsupported by my supervisor” Have you had that Crucial Conversation? Do you know other people-friends, family, business aquaintences who are at your level or even a level or two above you, whom you could ask to mentor/coach you? Think thru what makes you feel inadequate to the challenges you face, what are your expectations, and are they realistic of yourself and of your boss? If you need a pat on the back because you reached a personal goal, and your boss doesn’t notice, do you take that as not being supported? I applaud that you reached for something that you felt was a step up. This challenge is a growth opportunity for you, and if you decide to stick with it, you will have some great things to teach those who come along behind you.

  7. Again, my hopes have been dashed. By the title of the article I was so hoping that the Idiot that wrote the article about global warming was announcing the recognition of his stupidity!

  8. @Steve
    I agree with Steve that the words “producer” and “supervisor” might be distracting and some people would find offense. But neither do I think Ron was suggesting use of his phrasing verbaitm. Since the details of the position and title were omitted, and in the interest of concise writing, we can probably assume that it was meant to insert a more specific position title.

    Separately, I believe an element of the discussion that might be safest for Step Don to raise is compensation. An (unspoken) worry of the supervisor may be whether Step Down expects to carry his/her current pay back to the old position. I’ve seen circumstances where both parties wanted this same outcome (for the new supervisor to return to the staff level) and yet they never broached the converstion with the other for fear that the other would be offended. For Step Down to be clear about his/her desired result and to make the financial part of the conversation safe may be the most important part of the conversation.

  9. So you’re saying a supervisor is not a producer? I understand the intent behind that word choice, however, I agree with Steve and Mary that there are probably better ways to differentiate the role of supervisor versus front line worker. I also agree with Jim. Stepping down from the role does not address the other issues which are bound to continue.

  10. I’ve been reading the Crucial Skills articles for a year and so and generally like the advice given. But Mr. McMillan’s article left me with more questions than answers.

    The person asking for advice indicated one of the reasons he wanted to step down as supervisor because he was getting no support from his supervisor. Rather than prepare him to address that very critical issue, you suggest he dance around it by saying he wants to be a worker bee, not a supervisor. That seems disingenuous. If this person was not getting the support he needed from his supervisor, he should have raised the matter beforehand. But even at this late stage, it seems that he should have that discussion with his supervisor. First, it may lead to a clearer understanding and perhaps an agreement to work together better, before he makes a final decision to quit as supervisor. Even if the individual feels it’s too late for him, a frank, safe discussion with the supervisor could help this person’s successor.

  11. In reading your article on Stepping down I was curious as to why we did not ask “Stepping Down” if they had a crucial conversation with their boss about their performance. It states in the letter that I am discovering that I am either not ready, or I feel so unsupported by my supervisor that I am now unwilling to continue in this position. Has this been addressed to the supervisor / boss? Will they be blind sided when “Stepping Down” comes in and does not want to do the job anymore. If I were managing this person I would like to work with them first, find out what is going on and if it is a matter of support or if they really do not want to be in management. At least that way both sides could say they tried and it did not work out for this person. I feel that possible a conversation is missing before the drastic step or stepping down should be taken.

  12. In my experience I have seen time and again where someone who deserved to be advanced later found the new position beyond their abilities or comfort zone and although they may be doing an admiral job, they struggle with the stress and feel trapped.
    Unfortunately, to often they gave up and left or finally became so concerned that it did effect their performance and they were let go.
    I think that quality people are far to important and retaining them in whatever position is best for them and the company should be given a chance. This example seems to be a valid attempt at doing the right thing.

  13. A supervisor can be a producer only if their boss allows it, unfortunately most managers look at their position and think it an excuse to sit on THIER butts and delegate every single thing. I rarely have seen an exception to this rule. The supervisor usually ends up doing all the managerial work, while the manager just points out the obvious.

    I stepped down in my company and went back to school because my salary managers are so lazy they can’t even fill out and administer a write up–their one and only requirement. Oh, I talked to them about it, but do you really think your boss is going to listen to you, lol. They wanted me to do the write up, documentation, and talk to the associates while they sat in, then, once hr found out an hourly did the counseling it didn’t stick. Bottom line, sometimes it has nothing to do with not being able to lead. Leadership isn’t managing.

  14. I am in that position. I was hired as a supervisor out of grad school and am finding now – 18 months later that the stress of it in combination with personal issues is too overwhelming for me. I have been asked to consider staying in the company which would mean stepping down with 15000 less a year – hard to imagine. I wonder what my relationship will be like with the other employees or with the new supervisor. Though this seems challenging – for me it seems more feasible to stay in a business that I am familiar with and believe in than go on interviews or unemployment when it would only mean moving to another desk, leaving at 5:00 and having lunch everyday and not taking work home with me – yeah. I agree that keeping a person you can trust and know – me – beats letting them go and trying to find a replacement. The fact is my boss has noticed the stress level and thinks and wants me to consider another position. Though it would not be seen as a demotion by the employees I wonder if I can feel comfortable wondering what other employees are thinking about me or what I will think of the supervisors decisions. This change would require a good deal of grace and rethinking my finances. On the other hand my life may be happier – and they would be loosing an average supervisor and gaining a great employee in a position that I think I would enjoy. Hopefully everyone else would see it that way.

  15. @Mary
    As “producer” perhaps he literally meant something related to his title, perhaps “video producer”? Or, if he was using it generically meaning someone who produces widgets rather than manages people, I would hope that he would use the specific job title he was hoping to fall back into. Given that, I don’t see this going well, either. The job he had before has probably long been filled by someone else. I think he’d do better to look for that job he wants elsewhere.

  16. I understand where the writer is coming from however I have worked for a comanpany for 24yers. I have spent the last 12 of those years as an salaried assistant manager. I work 10-12 hours a day 54-60 hours a week and sometimes more. I spend less than an hour a day sitting, so I am on my feet moving about all day. I am in my mid 40’s and this is starting to take a toll on me physically and mentally. There are parts of my job as with anyone else that I like and some I don’t. My employer may or may not allow me to step down. I may have to apply for an hourly position and hope that I will get the job and then quit as a manager. Just to start over at the state minimum wage of 7.25 an hour and lose all my benefits. This is the thank you I would get. I would be better off finding another job, but during these tough employment times it will be difficult to find. As an hourly employee I would still do and committ to the same level of skill, dedication and performance as I always have. Just less the hours I would normally be doing it.

  17. @Debbie
    I too know where you are coming from. Fortunately I have another store I can transfer too which would be beneficial to them, with my knowledge, skill and performance level. So it would be a fresh start. Same company with a new set of 4 walls. I also travel 64 miles a day round trip where now I would only travel 10 if I change stores. This would also save me money on gas and regular vehicle maintaince.I just hope they will accept my decision without me having to start over.

  18. Please think really well about your decision to step down. This decision has to come from you not from what your co-workers think or do. It has to be related to your principles about holding that title, only by doing so you will never regret it. It is not eaasy climbing the latter to the top. Maybe you need to take some classes about leadership or how to deal with others. If the company gave you that position is because they think you can make it work. Prove yourself for a little while and then decide but do not let other employees actions be part of your decision.

  19. I just did this in a volunteer organization. I was elected Flotilla Commander at the request of the Division Commander. We had just gone through a bruising merger of flotillas that was made worse by the poor way it was conducted and rushed over Christmas. I also teach 2 leadership courses which means I am away some weekends. As a consequence of my teaching, I missed a number of meetings including a crucial one. I was short changing the flotilla. I am also involved in re-writing one of the courses. In a discussion between me and my Division Chief he suggested and I agreed. I have no regrets and still participate. I have a lottery time to dedicate to the re-writing process, admittedly my first priority. I have been in supervisory and command positions before so I was aware of the time constraints. I got caught in a role/goal conflict. Too many of each.

  20. I agree with the comments about Stepping Downs predicament. This is not likely to go well, as regardless of verity his statements, there is no apparent way for his to “Make it Safe.” I think he is much better off protecting himself, and find a personal reason to step down. Family needs are always a good safe reason for disengaging in a failing venture. He saves face, and he exits without leaving any burning bridges behind him. Sad, but safe!

  21. Our company has placed an increased focus on two tracks: people vs technical (for our IT staff). Oftentimes folks have earned promotions/assignments because they are good at what they do technically,, regardless of whether they want to become, or are good at, people leadership. If Stepping Down doesn’t want to be a people leader, it’s okay — we had a colleague make this exact move…and he returned gracefully and happily to being an individual contributor.

    I agree there are many issues here, such as the lack of their supervisor’s support, so Stepping Down should, indeed, review the feedback so many of you have wisely pointed out above before announcing a decision….

    IMHO

  22. Debbie, life is short, so if you’ll be happier, consider the change. As a leader (manager), I’d want the win-win solution of keeping an outstanding performer in a different role versus losing that person altogether because they departed due to stress, workload, etc @Debbie

  23. If one of my supervisors didn’t want to do the job anymore, whatever the reason might be, then I wouldn’t try to force him to stay on. If the supervisor isn’t feeling good about the job anymore, his entire team will be impacted and not in a positive way.

    As the manager on this side of the conversation, I would have two concerns: 1) whether the supervisor expects to step down in position without also stepping down in pay; and 2) whether he is willing to stay in the position until I have a suitable replacement lined up. If the supervisor can ease my mind on these two points then I have no reason to be upset with him.

  24. I agree with many comments. In the question it sounds as if there is more to the reason for stepping down than just feeling more comfortable as a producer. It sounds as if there is a problem in the relationship between this person and their supervisor. If they fix this problem, there may be no reason to step down.

    I have stepped down in the past. It was for family reasons. In order to keep the position I had, I would have had to relocate my family. The reasons for my stepping down were well understood by all of my superiors, yet there were repercussions. As the assistant director told me, we all have stock in our positions. At times it rises, other times it falls. I was doing a good job in my position and they tried to talk me into staying. My stock was at a high. I had a child with a medical problem and we as his parents felt is was better to stay where we were. As a result of the demotion, I fell off of management’s radar. It took me about 8 years to regain some of the stock I had lost. Most of the individuals in upper management had to leave before I could do even that.

  25. I’m currently in a “Team Manager” position for a consulting firm. When I took the position, I was told that there would be no pay raise, but that the fact that I took this role would be considered during annual review time when all resources were considered for a pay increase. Based on the raises I’ve received over the last 2 years since becoming a Team Manager, it wouldn’t have made a difference whether I was a Team Manager or not. It feels like the company is getting 5%+ of my time (outside of my regular duties as a full time billable consultant) for free without any recognition – even intangible recognition for a job well done. My direct reports and I work effectively together, so there is no performance issue involved. I want to bow out of this position because I feel that the company is taking more than I feel I am getting either tangibly or intangibly and also because there are no real opportunities for advancement in the near future.

  26. I am currently in the same position… I just wrote my step down letter and instantly felt so relieved? When I was in my old position (Technician) I was at the Lead position and loved my job. I was approached 13 months ago about taking a Service Manager Position and excepted the role I thought it was the right thing to do, continue up the ladder but over the last year I have gained 30 lbs. I have no ambition to do things I used to do (Biking, Diving and so on) I dread every day going to work now my past time is drinking beer after work to feel relaxed, I have attempted a step down 3 months ago my home office short of begged me not to stating I was doing such a great job and I reluctantly continued on. Funny thing, I asked my wife why are you taking a picture of me one day coming home from work? She said you will see, the next day she had that picture and one 15 months before… Wow I couldn’t believe how much I have aged that was it for me.
    Wish me luck I will be sending it out to my Boss’s on Monday morning first thing.

  27. Afternoon
    I too made the decision to step down from my management role based on reason of looking after my wife during her sickness and also to increase my study. As soon as this happened there was talk of my suitability to continue, off the record threats of termination, my mental stability. I now find I am no longer considered as a potential for promotion and those I saw as under performers are now being promoted.
    My advice. Stick with what works for you. You are replaceable irrespective of what position you hold.
    It is hard to step down from management

  28. Good day

    I am acting in a HOD position for the past three year wich is a position 10 and my position is a 08.I was just told by my Manager that I will no longer been acting in this position because my previous HOD are coming back.Pleas advice what my rights are because Idont feel uncomfortable with this

    Regards

    Bennie Bergman

  29. On this subject, as I am in the same boat.. Can the boss legally drop my wage for not continuing as a supervisor? Bare in mind with me, I have not signed any contracts or agreements to entitle me as supervisor, only the mere expression that I am

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