Episode Focus: In this episode, we ask the question “Why do you lead?” Your answer may include that you have no choice, that you do so for personal reasons, that you do it for external reasons, or perhaps for a combination thereof.
It’s been a while since the last VOCL episode – I will provide some highlights of what has been keeping me away from the microphone.
VOCL Main Feature
Why do you lead?
What is your motivation to be a leader? Do you lead for yourself or do you lead for others? Do you lead for a combination of both? While you ponder these questions, allow me to set the stage for you.
I tend to be a voracious reader of leadership articles – some I agree with, others that I disagree with, and others that simply don’t have an impact on me. What I truly enjoy is when I come across incongruence between two articles that I read back to back. I try to contemplate which one is a better “match” for my values and beliefs, leading me to find one more acceptable than the other. Occasionally, these two articles actually create a third article in my mind – today is one of those times. Let’s quickly review the two articles:
“What Will Your Leadership Legacy Say About You?” by Peter Barron Stark at peterstark.com on 26 April 2015
It is very easy to get mired in the “now”, but leaders need to think about the future, too! This particular article doesn’t talk about the future of your organization per se, but rather it gets you to think about YOUR future; your legacy. You need to lay the foundation of your legacy now by considering the following:
- Know your values (be an authentic leader)
- Develop and share your vision (where are you taking your followers?)
- Over-communicate (communication at every appropriate opportunity keeps everyone engaged and on the same page (I’ll ignore that by writing the subtitle as “over-communication” it implies too much))
- Be a relationship builder (leadership is more than a one-way street and even the little things such as smiles count)
- Learn continuously (“leaders are readers”)
- Walk your talk (don’t let your leadership get mired in the minutia of day-to-day)
“Why The Best Leadership Involves ‘Downward Mobility’” by Rob Asghar at Forbes on 28 April 2015
“Do you want to be happy, or would you prefer to be a leader?” is how this article begins. The author states that most leaders are unhappy at the end of their careers (i.e., when they are no longer a leader), that leadership can be a burden, and that you can become ‘addicted’ to leadership. The only way to reduce this sense of unhappiness is to “…focus consciously on letting go and making the inexorable journey down from the summit.” (italics mine)
So what’s the issue?
For me, the dissonance comes from Peter Stark implying “Think about your legacy now and work towards it” while Rob Asghar implies that “it doesn’t matter what you do; you’ll likely be unhappy when you’re no longer the leader.” It strikes me as odd that a person would work so hard to leave a legacy when the reward would be unhappiness when the legacy is in place. After some contemplation during my run, it came to me – both of these articles speak to the source of your motivation as a leader.
Why are you leading?
Are you leading because you have no choice?
I won’t spend too much time on this aspect since I believe that leadership is a function of choice. Yes, there may be times that a person can become a ‘hesitant’ leader (e.g., taking charge during a crisis such as during the unfortunate earthquakes in Nepal), but are gladly willing to give back the leadership role when the situation returns to a sense of normalcy. The leadership that I’m describing is about someone dedicating herself to a life (or at least a long period) of leadership.
Are you leading for personal reasons?
Some leaders do it strictly for pride. I’m sure you’ve seen them; they will do whatever it takes to get to the top. They are in it for themselves, and their followers are merely a tool to be used as they climb up that ladder. Not everyone is Machiavellian, however, and I don’t paint all leaders with this broad brush. They may be people that become leaders because it gives them something about which they can be proud. Perhaps they like the prestige or the power that comes with being a leader, or perhaps it’s the perks. Yet take away their leadership role (and the attendant benefits), and they will feel empty inside. What’s worse is if they have burnt bridges on the way to the top, or if they have neglected family and friends to become a leader, they will feel alone. They can still accomplish great things, but I have a feeling that it is this kind of leader that would have an outcome as outlined by Asghar (or perhaps by Dickens’ Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come).
Are you strictly leading for the sake of others?
I’m not going to lie; I’m still trying to philosophically work through this aspect. Yes, a completely altruistic leader can potentially exist, where the sole focus is on the followers. I’m thinking of Gandhi and Mother Theresa as I write, but what I can’t determine is whether they actually enjoyed being a leader. To be a leader that simply serves others, without enjoying being a leader, must be a difficult path since leadership has many challenges. But if you don’t enjoy something, can you truly do it to the very best of your abilities?
Can your leadership serve others while still serving your personal reasons (can you have the “best of both worlds”?)
My gut tells me that this is possible; that the best leaders serve their followers, yet enjoy doing so. I can think of numerous leaders whom I admire that serve their followers, but they also truly enjoy being in a position of leadership. Take them out of one leadership position in work (i.e., when they retire) and they will actively seek a leadership role in another field such as with community groups and non-profits. They are able to continuously strive to improve themselves and their followers (as per Stark’s legacy and focus on relationships), while simultaneously avoiding Asghar’s denouement.
Regardless of how you got into your current leadership position, I want you to think about your ‘why’. Leaders are supposed to have a vision for the future – what is your vision for your own future? What is your motivation for leading others? What kind of legacy will you leave behind?
It is my sincerest hope that thinking about these questions now will help you become the best leader that you can be now and in the future and that you will leave this world a better place and with no regrets.
VOCL Listener Feedback
I had been featuring a contest that ended in April – you needed to submit a review of VOCL in iTunes. The prize was a $25 Amazon gift card, but I cannot find any reviews (good or bad). As such, there is no winner except for my pocketbook!
VOCL Closing Thoughts / Future Episodes
What’s been happening
- I have moved from Nova Scotia to Colorado, USA for my work. I will be here for several years, but don’t worry – I am still looking at leadership from a Canadian perspective. The hardest part is getting used to the thinner atmosphere compared to sea level, but the view certainly makes up for it.
- My daughter received a prize from school for the leadership that she displayed throughout the year. She does well academically, but I am very proud of her for this accomplishment. Her leadership abilities were also featured at her junior school graduating banquet.
Takeaways and introspection:
I’m going to repeat what was said earlier in the podcast. Regardless of how you got into your current leadership position, I want you to think about your leadership ‘why’. Leaders are supposed to have a vision for the future – what is your vision for your own future? What is your motivation for leading others? What kind of legacy will you leave behind?