"I'm ready to be a leader!"
I've been hearing this theme come up in many conversations with folks I've mentored during the past couple of years. It's such a joy to see that they are now at the point in their careers where they are pursuing a move into managerial positions, have been recently promoted into leadership roles, or are beginning to forge down the entrepreneurial path.
If you are in such a position, this post is for you. This post is about something which is most commonly referred to as the burden of leadership. The burden of leadership can be hard to understand because it's not altogether logical or intuitive. When it is discussed among people not already in such a role, it is often with limited information and only in passing during a conversation about other topics. However, the burden of leadership is something that comes with the territory and its implications should be seriously considered beforehand.
I am writing this post to offer my thoughts on this topic, and I hope it will help you consider how you might approach your new leadership roles and help you plan ahead to set yourselves up for success.
The apparent burdens of leadership
Isolation - You will begin to feel isolated and a sense of loneliness now that you are managing people who were formerly your colleagues. To mitigate this risk, actively build up a strong support structure for both your personal and professional lives.
Yours to Bear - You will be expected to carry far more responsibility now, and these will extend you beyond your ‘day job’ and the core hours of business. You will also be held accountable for other people’s actions, positive and negative.
Tough Calls - You will be the person who is required to make those tough decisions where previously you may have 'deferred to your superiors.' Now this is you and you have to own it. Sometimes, even the ‘right’ decisions will adversely impact and be unpopular with certain persons.
Real Talk - You will get to deliver amazing news about wins for the team, but also be the one who's privy to the bad news. It will be on you to decide what level of transparency is appropriate for your team(s) depending on circumstances and how the tone of the conversation will be.
Out of Touch - You will be perceived as being out of touch with your people, your community, and your organization. Whether or not this is true does not matter, the perception will always permeate throughout the organization at some level. How will you stay in touch?
The less perceptible burdens of leadership
Money Matters - As an owner of the business (e.g. promoted to join company partnership, or bootstrapping your start-up), you will constantly have thoughts about cash flow on your mind. Business finances are very different than personal finances. Get an amazing team of accounting and finance whizzes that you can rely on.
The Right Motivation - You may come up against a hurdle where the existing incentives and compensation plan will pit your personal interests against the company’s or your peoples’ interests. It is extremely important to keep tweaking the compensation plan so that people at all levels of the organization are working towards a unified vision for the right reasons.
Mental Approach - On ‘the way up’ in an organization, it’s easy and tempting to complain about, resent, and blame people for what is happening (e.g. compensation, promotions, autonomy, scheduling). After all, it's the boss' fault, right? As a leader, you will now have to consider, decide, implement, and uphold decisions on all of these.
Getting Personal - You will have to navigate so many situations based on your peoples’ personal circumstances. I'll bet that many of these situations have never even crossed your mind before (e.g. criminal history, hidden conflicts of interest, public/social personas, medical complications). My suggestion: talk to your lawyer and HR expert when you have any questions at all, and understand that there's a difference between what you are legally obligated/able to do and what might be the 'right' thing to do.
So, given all of these burdens, is taking on a leadership role really worthwhile?
For me, the answer has been yes. Along with the challenging situations and many sleepless nights, I have found it to be immensely rewarding to have had such meaningful conversations about peoples’ lives, to have had the opportunity to serve others, and to make an impact on numerous communities.
That said, one would do well to take the time to reflect on whether it’s right for you. An important lesson I’ve had to learn is that, despite the popular rhetoric that everybody must strive to and want to be a leader, it goes against the nature and aspirations of many people... and that's perfectly okay. There has been much study into quiet leadership, leading from the front/back/side, etc.