A number of years ago one of the leaders in my team (let’s call him Dave), came to say goodbye as he headed off for his next opportunity. He was taking on a new role where he would be an individual contributor. He told me he was looking forward to not having a team as he needed a break from leadership for a while, but that he would come back to it later.
Know why you want to be a leader
I asked Dave why. Why does he want to come back to leadership in the future? His response? He believed that he needed to lead teams to have a successful career. He hadn’t really considered that he didn’t even like leadership.
Enjoyment really matters
For many years there has been a debate about whether leadership is nature or nurture. I believe it’s actually both. The best leaders are lifelong students of leadership and work hard to continually hone their skills. Great leadership is rarely accidental. But nature matters too. Not everyone enjoys leadership, or finds it rewarding. Sometimes people are just born that way. With much hard work people who don’t find leadership rewarding can likely become competent leaders. But at what price?
If it doesn’t light you up it will weigh you down
I’m a visual person and the image that immediately came to mind when Dave told me he would go back to leading teams one day was an image of an old fashioned set of scales. Why? Well leadership is not for the faint hearted — it is heavy, challenging and will keep you awake at night. It hurts. The left hand scale that holds the weight of leadership is always there for all leaders. Some days it is all weight and no joy, and the left scale rests on the bottom. When the right hand scale is filled with the joy, meaning, and purpose of leadership, then you can balance out its weight. The reward of seeing people learn, grow and flourish makes it all worthwhile — it lightens the load. And gives meaning and purpose to your life.
It’s not just about you
Whether you enjoy leadership or not is neither good nor bad. We’re all different and this diversity makes for a fascinating world. So my advice is to reflect deeply on how leading people makes you feel. If you don’t find leadership rewarding, your team will sense you carrying the weight of the world on your shoulders.
How to be useful
I reflected again on Dave’s comment about having a successful career. And it’s not actually about that, as I can’t fathom a situation where real success comes from doing something that is not enjoyable.
Jim Collins (of Built to Last and Good to Great) met the great management thinker Peter Drucker early in his career. As Collins was leaving at the end of the day’s visit, Drucker shared some powerful wisdom:
“…..you seem to spend a lot of energy on the question of how to be successful. But that is the wrong question.” He paused, then like the Zen master thwacking the table with a bamboo stick: “The question is: how to be useful!” *
If you don’t enjoy leadership, it’s unlikely to be the answer for you to the “How to be useful” question. We all have gifts we bring to this world. What are yours, and how can you be useful?
*Jim Collins, Boulder, Colorado, May 2016 Ten Lessons I Learned from Peter Drucker. Forward to the 50th Anniversary of The Effective Executive.
Image credit: Can Thai Long/shutterstock.com
This article was originally published on Medium October 19, 2019.