Are leaders born or made? That’s a debate this article can’t cover (in under a 1000 words) so I won’t go there. Everybody wants to be a leader, but if you knew what it really entails you might change your mind. In previous positions I’ve held, I learned over time that leadership isn’t as glamorous as advertised. In order to be an effective leader you have to be willing to absorb the following 3 things:
1) Willing to Take The Blame – If you want to lead, you have to accept being the goat. Not the “greatest of all time,” but pointing the finger at yourself when your team fails. It may not be your fault, but when something goes wrong people usually point “up.” I remember a time one of my staff members said something insensitive during a presentation and one of the audience members expressed their displeasure to me immediately. It wasn’t my mouth that this inappropriate comment came from, but after discussing it with my colleague, I decided to publicly apologize to the crowd. I wasn’t thrilled about it, because it wasn’t my “fault,” but it was under my watch so I took the fall for my team.
2) Willing To Deflect Praise – If you love getting credit for success, get out of leadership. Books, media and social networks paint a different picture, but rarely do leaders get praised when things go well. In fact, the better you get at leading and the longer you do it, it becomes an expectation (not appreciation). It’s like the obedient, older brother who gets overlooked by the prodigal son by his father. “Hey, I’ve been doing great all this time, but now this delinquent boy comes home and you give him a party?” Thanks for noticing. Not only do you have to take responsibility for your team’s blunders, but you also don’t get rewarded for achievements. Leadership isn’t all what it’s cracked up to be.
3) Willing To Follow – Maybe the hardest lesson to learn as a leader is managing your ego, not the egos of others. I learned this as a coach. Sometimes you’re right and they’re wrong, but you still go with their decision even when it turns our bad. Why? Because leadership is about developing people. If you make all the decisions, followers become dependent on the leader and never learn to soar on their own. When you delegate responsibility/let your team make decisions and live with the outcomes, they become leaders during the process. It’s not about telling people what to do and enforcing it. That’s called dictatorship. It’s why we hate micromanagers. The best way to illustrate this concept is an inverted triangle. The leader is at the bottom and his/her job is to support the people “above” them. Serve up and you’ll never fall down.
The better question to ask when it comes to leadership is: are you willing? Leadership is not for everyone and that’s okay. There can only be so many chefs in the kitchen, then it becomes too chaotic. Leaders are thrown into situations where they aren’t prepared all the time. It’s about knowing yourself, knowing your values and knowing your role. You don’t need an official position to lead, you just have to be willing to do the tough things and not get applauded for it.