Why Do You Choose Leadership?

In many organizations, there is this implicit assumption that everyone aspires to be a leader. As a result, leadership roles in these places are ever in danger of being populated by people who privately lack the interest or desire to develop the skill required to lead others effectively. We’ve probably all seen, and felt, the consequences of  this at some time or another.

So, where is the source of the problem?  To be honest, I’ve been struggling a bit with this question but I have a few thoughts so here they are.

First, I think we have to look to organizational culture and practices.  And second, we have to explore the possible reasons people apply for leadership roles in the first place.

From an organizational perspective, these two questions come to mind:

What does the culture of the organization support?

Culture has a lot to do with the caliber of leadership existing in any company.  In many places, those who say they aren’t interested in leadership roles are viewed as having no ambition…or worse.  If the work environment does not support or value those who prefer individual contribution, some people will feel pressure to step into roles for which they are unsuited perhaps because they feel it is expected of them or they don’t see anywhere else to go to improve their lot.

What false assumptions might the organization be making?

In some companies, those who excel in one area of the work are often promoted and placed in charge of a group of others doing similar work.   The assumption is that s/he who excels is willing and able to bring the others up to his or her level of excellence.  In my experience, those who are good at doing are not necessarily good at teaching.  And so, often, the results of this tactic are disappointing for the company and frustrating for the individual.

There are of course other questions to ponder but the point is that if you find too many unhappy people in roles that don’t suit them, the first place to look is at how the organization may be unwittingly supporting it.

Okay, so aside from organizational concerns, why do people choose leadership roles?   Well, I think that’s a question that every person should be asked when making application because to make it simple, there are good reasons and there are bad reasons for choosing leadership.

For instance, I think you may be on the right track if:

You want to change something for the better

You have a genuine interest in influencing others

You see the reward and benefit of working with and through others.

You believe strongly in the power of collective effort

Coaching, teaching, and guiding are words to which you strongly relate

Building relationships and communicating with others is important to you

You accept that people will watch you, do what you do and say what you say… for better or worse.

You accept that not everyone is going to like you.

You are willing take the blame for group mistakes even if you didn’t make them.

Conversely, you may be barking up the wrong tree if:

Your primary interest is more money and a promotion

You like the idea of telling people what to do

Position or status is your principal motivator

You view this as an opportunity to delegate the work you don’t like to do.

You want a leadership role solely for the purpose of your own development

For me, the bottom line is this:

Creating workplaces where leadership roles are filled only with people who are good at leading and want to be there, relies on the willingness of organizations to give greater value to, and make room for, those whose skills and talents lie elsewhere.  It also relies on the willingness of individuals to examine their real motivations before throwing their hat in the leadership ring.

What do you think?  Why would you choose leadership?  What else has to change?

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13 Comments

Filed under Leadership, Leadership Development, Management, organizational Development

13 responses to “Why Do You Choose Leadership?

  1. Your post got me thinking of why I chose leadership several decades ago. I vividly remember myself, as a young teacher, acutely observing my school principal (whom I greatly admired) and noticing what she did and what she said. I was never comfortable just going with the flow of our organization. I always wanted to improve things and understand the “why” behind her actions. This is what I began to look for in teachers with whom I then initiated leadership conversations. Your lists offer a great framework for these kind of conversations. Thanks so much for the great post!

    • Gwyn Teatro

      Hi Jamie ~ Your comment made me think that one of the big signs of good leadership potential lies in the ability to view the landscape and see where changes could be made in a variety of places. It is perhaps that wider view that makes the difference between those who will find leadership satisfying and those who prefer to focus their curiosity in a more singular way.
      Thanks for that and for your kind words too!

      • Yes, Gwyn. Love the way you’ve expressed it as the “wider view.” And your phrase, “focus their curiosity in a more singular way” is so much nicer than what I would have said, “are in it for their own personal gain!”

  2. Lawrence "Larry" Berezin

    Gwyn,
    Early life (through law school)…Leadership chose me. Business Life…Close relationship with top leader. Present day…It’s my business.

    How ’bout you, Gwyn?

    Great post…As always.
    Best,
    Larry

    • Gwyn Teatro

      Hi larry ~ you remind me that sometimes leadership chooses us. To me, that means that people are drawn to us because of how we relate to them. Perhaps something about us engenders trust, or competence, both…or something else. Whatever it is, I suspect it is something we put out first. I suspect too, that leadership would not choose us if we did not send those signals. More importantly, whether it chooses us or we choose it, for everyone’s sake, we must be aware of our motivations before putting up our hands to lead.

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  4. This is a terrific post. Rarely do we question why not and who should not put themselves in leadership positions. I personally think it is a two way street in that we are “chosen” as much as we choose. Having the title won’t make anyone choose us.

    • Gwyn Teatro

      Hi Anne ~ Your comment reminds me of the “horse to water…can’t make it drink” idiom. I absolutely agree. What comes to mind too, is that organizations who regularly invest money in leadership development would do well to ensure that they make good choices in the first place. To carry the ‘horse’ reference a tad further, backing the wrong one can prove to be very expensive.
      Thanks for coming by and adding more food for thought.

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  6. One of the failures of North American management is there is no clear, consistent definition to establish what leadership means versus management.

    I have a different view what leadership means from you, so I found myself misunderstanding what you wrote in the article. I believe you are describing management: management to me is the messy, dirty business of growing people. And for a manager to be credible, he/she has to add value. So if they don’t or can’t add value, they should not be promoted.

    I believe that management is a craft and that managing people is a skill. If an individual does not care to grow people and can’t have honest discussions with them, they should not be managers, no matter what other talents they might bring to the table.

    It’s a sacred trust: to be a manager of people, the manager must manage well.

    • Gwyn Teatro

      Hi Nick ~ Thank you for adding your perspective here. While we perhaps use different language, having read your comment a couple of times, we are not really saying different things.
      For me, management and leadership are part of the overall responsibility of anyone charged with achieving organizational goals through others. I prefer to connect the management part of that overall role with things like processes, projects and performance. Leading, to me, is about people and I agree. None of it is neat and tidy.
      My point is, that not everybody is cut out for the demands of management positions, often for the reasons you point out. And yet, so often, people are offered promotion for the wrong reasons and accept promotion for the wrong reasons too.
      This leads to a messy business, as you put it, becoming even messier with the organization paying a price in poor results and the potential loss of valuable talent as individuals suffer under poor leadership.
      As well, there are specialist individuals who add value and are very good at things like process management but not good at the ‘growing people’ part. I just think that we need to acknowledge those people in other ways than offering them people management positions as their “reward”.

      Thank you for coming by and for taking the time to comment. It is much appreciated.

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