So you want to be a “Leader.” Many of us have no idea what we are getting ourselves into. Most of us have decided that we can do our boss’s job better than they can…until you become the boss.
Leadership is not nearly as easy as we have made it out to be in our own minds. I’ve heard this from most people who have crossed over to the other side. Myself included. Leadership is not for the faint of hearts. And if you fall within that category, you will be weeded out rather quickly. Probably due to not properly handling any one of the 5 issues below.
I have come across many people who have a desire to be a “Leader.” They want to have an impact on others. Yet, they have no influence. Rather, thus far in their lives, they have been the influenced and not the influencer. Which is not completely bad. It’s a start. Not being either might be a bit more of a struggle.
Ponder this: When was the last time you followed somebody who had no idea who they were or what they stood for? If you don’t know, you might literally stand for anything, or worse, nothing. People are drawn to confidence. Perhaps it’s a self-preservation thing. Like an, “I’m gonna stick with this person because they seem to know what they are doing and I’ll probably be safer in their midst.” Here’s an example. I’ve worked with a guy for almost a decade. He’s perceived as a little nutty. Nutty as in, doesn’t touch tape to his fingertips, buries money in the ground, lives in the middle of nowhere and doesn’t have people over. Although others feel this type of behavior to be rather extreme, I’ve heard many people say, “If a zombie apocalypse happened, I’ll be with THAT guy.” He stands for something, regardless of how odd it seems. And others clearly know what it is. And in the right situation, they will be taking his lead. He never pretends to be anything he is not. People know what to expect from him. People respect this. They even prefer it.
This takes time. It doesn’t come over night. Not even over a month or a year. It’s a life long process, however, you can determine who you are by 2 things, what you’ve stood for up to this point or even, what you have decided you will stand for or be known for moving forward. And then do it. When was the last time you gave yourself a life assessment test? Where you asked yourself about the decisions you have made and why you made them. Are you ok with your choices? If not, what would you like to change and why? It seems like a lot of work, I know. But Leaders ask themselves the tough questions. They ponder and philosophize but they also take action. Mindless action, though, can get one into trouble. So take the time to discover your true authentic self. Your strengths, your shortcomings, your skillsets, your unique attributes. What characteristics do you convey that are worth following? If you are not confident in who you are, I promise, others won’t be confident in you either. It may not be what you would prefer. Know who you are or others will decide for you.
Bring on the haters.
Leadership, as glamorous as it might seem at times, is not a crowd pleasing job. Sure there may be crowds, but you will have to take unpopular stands sometimes. And similarly, as previously mentioned, if you don’t make the difficult decisions when it’s time, or even explain why you made a particular decision, someone else will. People read into things they don’t understand. They assign their own reasoning if it’s not done for them. And if you aren’t clear, it is very easy to be misunderstood or misinterpreted. Sometimes, though, no matter how much explaining you do and regardless of how clear you are in your messaging, people will not agree or like you. Gary V is an extremely popular Leadership voice in the social realm these days. There are people who don’t like him. He may be too loud or too vulgar, says the F-word way too much. But he is himself regardless. So stay strong, because even if you have the biggest crowds, you will also have haters. It’s impossible to please everyone. Understand that it’s ok. Do not make the mistake of trying to please everyone. In doing that, you will only lose yourself. And remember, you need to be your authentic self, always.
“To avoid criticism say nothing, do nothing, be nothing.” -Elbert Hubbard
The fault belongs to you.
When you’re the Leader, it doesn’t matter where in the chain things go wrong, the fault is yours. Have you ever seen a Leader give bad direction and then let somebody else take the fall for executing the action? I have, it’s nothing short of disgusting. A shameful display of Self-preservation. That’s not a leader. It’s a dictator who only cares about and protects themselves. I’m not sure if you’ve noticed…dictators often get overthrown. So if your ego is too big to accept lots and lots of failure, then Leadership is probably not for you. Be willing to take ownership. All of it. Even if something wasn’t your decision. At some point, somebody thought you would find their actions/choices to be acceptable. Perhaps you lacked clarity in your messaging. Protect your people. That’s true leadership. You’re a team.
Be a cat lover.
I know that sounds strange. I’ll explain. I was never a cat person growing up, mostly because I am deathly allergic. But after having to make peace with some short-haired cats I’ve found my way. Something I have learned about cats is that they do what they want. It’s nearly impossible to train them unless they want to be trained. After years of trying to tell my cat to stay off the couch, I finally gave up. The more I tried to control her, the more she would just yell back at me. She does what she wants. And I resolved within myself that I’ll just have to vacuum more often. There’s a saying, “It’s like herding cats.” This saying also applies to Leadership. At least 50% of the time, you feel like you are herding cats. I can’t even begin to imagine what Moses felt like for 40 years leading the Israelites out of Egypt. Poor guy. Humans, like you and me, all have their own brains, personalities and priorities, as I am sure you are aware. The more we try to control what they do, the more likely they are to rebel. Ultimately, they will make decisions that are best for them and others but sometimes they also just do things without even thinking about it. Like my cat when she pokes her claws through the leather of my office chair because she just likes the sound and feeling of it. But I love her regardless. Be a cat lover. Less stress for you, less stress for them. We need to trust others do do the important things we know they are capable of on their own (like using the litter box) and don’t try to control all the day to day minutia. They’ll figure the stuff out.
You’re not a feelings person – better figure that out.
As a Leader, you will quickly discover that people have feelings…lots of them. Feelings about everything that you do that potentially affects them. They also like to be included in these decisions that potentially affect them. There are plenty people who will share their feelings, even when you think its unnecessary. Then there are those who will share their feelings about your decisions with everyone else but you. Ultimately, you want people to come to you. And if they don’t, for whatever reason, it’s your fault, remember? They may not feel comfortable criticizing you to your face, maybe because in the past you haven’t allowed their points to be valid. So they hold that against you as well. The best way to deal with all of the emotions that come along with Leadership is to become a great listener. People need to be heard, regardless of whether you agree with them. This doesn’t mean shut them down immediately. People need to be brought along. We need to allow people to ask questions. Let them know their voices are important and then be compassionate and clear when certain things don’t line up with the vision. And in many cases, when we listen to our people, we will learn something. Things that may cause us to lead differently. If we don’t listen to our people, soon we may not have anyone to lead.
The non-ugly truth – It’s worth it.
Regardless of the tremendous amount of responsibility that comes with Leadership, it is, by far the most fulfilling work that some of us will aspire to do. Connecting and growing with others in an authentic way is extremely rewarding. My favorite moments are celebrating in the successes of others. Some of my most important moments are the one’s where we have to address hardship and brokenness head on. Those are moments that will stick with others and myself forever. How we respond as caring and supportive leaders will help bring clarity to some of life’s toughest seasons for others. As long as we are willing to listen, to know we aren’t always the smartest person in every situation, but are committed to bringing our best and helping others be their best, this will be some of the most meaningful work you will ever experience.