There’s a funny thing about leaders. You can’t tell by looking who the good ones will be. Effective leaders come in all shapes and sizes and colors and temperaments. Some are pin neat, and others are sloppy. No list of traits can tell you if you will be an effective leader. In fact, there’s no sure way to find out except by becoming a leader.
But if you become a leader in most companies today, you can’t go back to what you were doing before. Sad, but true.
I’ve been training, coaching, and studying leaders for over 40 years. Sometimes I help a person decide if leadership is for them. When I do that, I ask questions based on what I know about the work leaders do. Here are those questions.
Do You Enjoy Helping Other People Succeed?
A leader’s work is to help the team and the team members succeed. If you enjoy that for its own sake, leadership might be a good choice for you.
Are You Comfortable Not Being in Control?
This one is tricky. We think when you become a leader you have more control over things than you had before. Not true. Once you become a leader, the team is your destiny. Their performance determines your evaluation. Can you handle that?
Do You Confront Other People About Performance and Behavior Issues?
I used to ask this question in the form, “Are you willing to confront …?” But many people said they were willing to do the hard work of confrontation but didn’t do it when the time came. Now I ask you if you’re doing it already.
If you confront people about behavior and performance issues now, you’ll continue to do it as a leader. You can learn techniques to do it better. You can learn techniques to take some of the sting out. But you must do it, and the proof is in your behavior today. What are you doing now?
Are You Willing to Take the Blame When Things Don’t Work Out?
When you’re a leader, you’ll make decisions that determine what you and the people on your team will do. You will almost never have enough information to make an absolutely guaranteed decision. So, sometimes things will not turn out the way you intended.
It’s possible to go through a great decision process and make a bad decision. It’s possible to make a great decision that works out badly because of issues you couldn’t have known about before. When those things happen, you’re the one who will be held accountable. Can you handle that?
Leaders Have Two Jobs and Lots of Trade-offs. Can You Handle That?
When you’re a leader, you have two jobs. One job is to accomplish the mission through the group. The other job is to care for the people on your team. Sometimes, accomplishing one goal means sacrificing the other. That’s tough, because you’re going to when there are no right answers, just intelligent choices. Most of the situations you’ll face as a leader involve tradeoffs of some kind. How do you handle tradeoffs now?
Do You Think You’ll Enjoy the Work?
This is the summary question. The other five questions have prepared you to answer this one.
The first five questions are all about the work. They’re based on things many leaders find difficult or uncomfortable. If you can answer “yes” to those questions, you’ll probably enjoy the work. Then you have a shot at becoming a great leader.
But beware. Psychologists say we “habituate” to good things. We get used to the salary, and the benefits, and the prestige. When that happens, only the work is left. If you don’t like the work, every day will be a struggle. If you don’t like the work, it will make your days hard and corrode your soul.
I can’t tell you if leadership is for you. And you can’t know for sure, either. The best you can do is ask the questions and think about the answers and make a choice. That’s what leaders do. Make a choice.
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