Why Do You Choose Leadership?

 This post, from 2012, poses a question about leadership.  It asks us to examine our motivation for choosing to undertake an organizational leadership role.  And, it highlights a couple of obstacles that can get in the way of our making the right choice, both for us and for those who will be affected by it.

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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

The Bottom Line:  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.

That’s what I think anyway. What do you think?  Why would you choose leadership?  What else has to change?

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7 Comments

Filed under Leadership, Leadership Development, Management, organizational Development, Organizational Effectiveness

7 responses to “Why Do You Choose Leadership?

  1. Excellent post Gwyn –
    I completely agree that if someone chooses to move into business leadership simply because they think it will bring a bigger paycheck or greater prestige, they are in for a very rough ride.
    Also, I think one of the ‘old school’ assumptions in business is that leading/following are static, meaning that there is “A” leader and by default everyone else becomes a follower – I think we are finally beginning to realize that in productive teams, leading & following are dynamic – with people often flowing between roles.
    Best regards and a very happy new year
    Carl
    @SparktheAction

  2. Interesting reading, I work in an environment where people end up in leadership roles for a variety of reasons. I ‘fell’ into my role because a specialist role in our department didn’t appeal and I was more interested in how to build a supportive environment for our team and for our clients.

    • Gwyn Teatro

      Hi Sam ~ I suspect that you chose leadership rather than fell into it…and for the rest of your team, and your clients, that’s a very good thing. Thank you for taking the time to comment here.

  3. I completely agree with this. I do also wonder if people also consider the industry they work in when committing to a leadership role. Even if you’re organization is sensitive to your approach, they’re probable ahead of a majority of the alternative employers

    • Gwyn Teatro

      Hi Geoff ~ Yes, perhaps leadership style will vary from industry to industry but to me, regardless of industry, the basics of leadership remain the same. Perhaps the key is to first seek to understand the culture that is prevalent in the organization or industry and then decide how our vision of leadership fits into that before we jump in. Thanks. I’m going to think about that some more 🙂

  4. Pingback: Leadership is an activity… not a position | Martina McGowan

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