This post originally appeared at Leading With Mission.
Born, Built or Appointed
Why do you even want to be a leader? This leadership stuff is tough! There’s accountability for the organization’s success, responsibility for the human beings that follow you, scrutiny of everything you do and don’t do, criticism for well…everything and don’t get me started on the stress! So why do it? Why do you choose to be a leader?
When asked, most leaders will tell you HOW they became leaders instead of WHY they choose to lead. Some leaders will tell you that they were born this way – Natural born leaders just waiting for someone to direct, something to organize or some group to influence. Others might tell you that they chose it as a career path maybe through their academic aspirations. Still others will share that they were really good at what they did and found themselves promoted for their technical expertise to train and lead others doing similar work.
High Stakes of Leadership
No matter how you came to be a leader, genetic predisposition, education or promotion by expertise; you have likely come to appreciate how heavy the responsibility can be. I mean there are real stakes to this leadership gig; individual lives – their motivations, career progression, wellbeing and work satisfaction, along with company success or failure. And you have to consider your own aspirations, balance and personal fulfillment as well. This isn’t textbook, Forbes article stuff…this is real life. When your team is gelling, margins are good, your organization is on top it’s pretty fabulous to be the leader; but when you’re dealing with difficult employees, company reorgs, layoffs, market downturns, etc., it’s downright hard.
What’s the Draw?
So why do you do it? Why do you choose to be responsible for those that work for you and to own, at least some measure, of the organization’s success or failure? Why do you choose to put yourself at the helm during challenging operational times, sacrificing personal time and energy to be responsible for others? Why?
Is it the benefits or perks of your position; does the compensation motivate you? Is it because you were asked to take the role or was it simply the next step…what you were supposed to do? Do you have an intrinsic desire to serve others or to live out some greater purpose through leadership? What does being a leader allow you to have, be or do in your life that makes it worth doing?
People Want Inspiration
There is no right or wrong answer. In fact, the responses may be as varied and individual as the number of readers. What matters is that you consider the question and dedicate at least some time to defining your own reason for choosing to lead. If you don’t know why you’re doing it then you may find yourself struggling or disenchanted with the role, the organization or the people that you can’t seem to engage no matter how many times a week you bring donuts. For the record, donuts are great but your people want to be inspired and you can’t very well be inspiring if you can’t connect your own “why” to your work.
Clarify Your Why
Here are 3 simple ways to help you begin to explore the question of why you choose to be a leader.
- Make a list – The simple act of thinking about why you want to be a leader and listing out the things that come to mind can provide at least some awareness about why you choose to lead. Consider the times you’re having fun, as well as, what drives you crazy. Try listing out the things that energize you and then those things that leave you feeling zapped. Don’t hold anything back. Get it all on paper and then take some time to really connect the dots for yourself and identify common themes. What do you see and how do you feel about it?
- Work with a coach – A little self-serving…maybe…but I believe in the power of working with a strong thought partner to peel back the layers of ‘should,’ ‘could,’ and ‘supposed to’ to figure out what’s really driving the decisions you make and shedding some light on your personal mission. I’ve seen firsthand what can happen when leaders are able to stop struggling with themselves over the role and start focusing on the influence and impact they have on something greater. They become inspiring to everyone around them.
- Consider your legacy – What mark do you want to leave behind when you leave the organization? What characteristics do you want to be remembered for…integrity, aggressiveness, problem-solving? You decide. Consider what will be missed when you’re gone. What did you do better than anyone else? Then consider, how being a leader aligns with the legacy you hope to leave? Is there alignment?
“Why” is Inspiring
It doesn’t matter how you clarify your ‘why’ but it matters that you do. Because when you are able to identify and articulate your motivation and align your ‘why’ personally and professionally then you will lead with mission. You will lead from a place that is authentically you. You will wreak of personal commitment to your role and the people you lead. You will inspire and exude confidence that comes from knowing this thing you do is connected to something greater than the ‘tasks’ of the day, quarterly metrics, annual goals or strategic plans. You’ll appreciate that it’s hard because it matters. It matters to the people you lead, to your customers, the organization you choose to serve and IT MATTERS TO YOU!