One of the things that disappoints me the most is hearing someone tell me they don’t want to be a leader. It’s unfortunate because I believe that everyone not only has the ability to be leader but also the responsibility to make a leadership contribution in the role they are in. But in this context, they usually associate leadership with a management-type position. And what they usually mean is that the perks of leadership (pay, perception, privileges) are not worth the stress (bureaucracy, pressure, time, work, people issues).
And unfortunately, in some cases, I agree with them. I’ve seen plenty of leaders abused to the point where others take note and stay put. Usually it’s the result of some type of organizational dysfunction which may be easy to see buy difficult to change. Other times the job really is that difficult.
So as you move up in an organization, does leadership get easier or harder? I have good news and bad news. The answer is “yes.” Here’s why.
Leadership Gets Harder
The higher you go in an organization, the more you become responsible for. That means there is more to stress over, it’s true. You’ll have more decisions to make, more uncertainty to negotiate and more change to manage. You inherit problems you probably don’t want to deal with. You have less time to gain familiarity with your environment. Your decisions have deeper and wider implications. Your mistakes have sharper consequences. And you will likely report to someone (or a group of people) who has less time for (and possibly less patience with) you.
Leadership Gets Easier
Now here’s the good news. The higher you go in an organization, the more support you get. You generally have more budget to work with. You have more people to work with you and for you to solve your problems. (If you have good leaders on your team, they’ll work to prevent problems from even showing up on your radar). You have more access to information. You also have more opportunity to shape both culture and outcomes. In short, you have more control.
So, is it worth it?
Steven Sample, former president of University of Southern California and author of The Contrarian’s Guide to Leadership said there is a big difference between “being leader” and “doing leader.” In other words, it’s nice to have the title and the perks, but if you aren’t willing to do the work, you’ll never be the right fit.
So how do you decide if a leadership opportunity is right for you?
It’s a complicated question that has to be evaluated on a case-by-case basis, for sure. But bear these two questions in mind:
- How much change will you be able to influence?
- How will you be able to better serve the people around you?
I firmly believe that each person has the ability to make a leadership contribution regardless of their organizational hierarchy. But it’s also true that some positions afford more opportunities for influence than others. Most leadership opportunities don’t come along every day.
As far as serving people goes, Jack Welch once said that 70% of leadership is developing people – and that if you don’t like people, leadership stinks! There’s no substitute for one-on-one influence. The higher you go, the greater influence you will have over the lives of others – either for better or worse.
Nathan Magnuson is a leadership consultant, coach, trainer and thought leader. Receive his new ebook Trusted Leadership Advisor by subscribing to his website or follow him on Twitter.