Is Leadership for You?

It doesn’t matter if we’re talking about riding a bike or making a Hollandaise sauce or leading a team. Everything looks easy until you try to do it.

You can learn a lot about leadership by observing good leaders and watching what they do. You can spend time thinking about how you would handle leadership issues. You can read books and blog posts and articles about leadership. You’ll learn a lot. It’s not enough.

My friend and client, Rod Santomassimo, tells his clients this:

“Don’t KID yourself. Knowing Isn’t Doing.”

Leadership Isn’t for Everyone

The change from an individual contributor to someone responsible for the performance of a team is the toughest transition in business. It’s more like a career change than it is like a job change. You want to make the right choice.

That’s especially important because, in most companies, you don’t get a do-over. Once you’re promoted, you’re a “leader.” It doesn’t matter if you do it well or poorly, you can’t go back to your old job. You’re looking at doing work you don’t like every day for the rest of your career.

That’s not fun. It’s a recipe for stress, poor performance, and unhappiness. How can you make the right choice?

How to Determine if Leadership is for You

Reading about leadership and observing leaders won’t tell you enough. You must try on the role to determine whether leadership is something you want to do for the rest of your career.

Find a way that you can do leadership work without making leadership a permanent career choice. In most companies, there are options to be the leader of a short-term project team, or a temporary task force. If you can’t find anything like that, nonprofits are crying out for people to try leadership roles. Whatever you do, find a way to try leadership so you can decide if you want to do leadership work every day.

Two Specific Questions to Ask

Ask yourself two questions when you analyze your experience. They’re about things leaders must do. They also make many people uncomfortable. The answers give you important clues about whether leadership is a good career choice for you.

Were you willing to confront other people about performance or behavior issues?

It’s an important part of leadership work. Confronting people about performance or behavior issues is one of the ways you accomplish the mission and make the team a great place to work.

Confronting others about performance or behavior makes most people uncomfortable. As a result, they talk themselves out of the need to do it. Or they keep putting off the conversation. That only makes things worse.

You can learn techniques for those difficult conversations. But those skills are useless if you won’t have the conversation or if you keep putting it off.

Did you make the decisions that were yours to make?

Or did you kick them upstairs? If you’re going to be an effective leader, you must be willing to make decisions that are yours to make. In most groups, the leader is the “default decider.” And in today’s fast-moving world, you will rarely have enough information or much time.

After you decide, you must be accountable for the results. When things don’t turn out well, you must be willing to take the hit. How did that work for you?

Here’s the Big Question

Did you enjoy helping the team and team members succeed? That’s the big question, because leadership really isn’t about you. It’s about the team and the mission. If you can get past your ego and find the joy in helping others succeed, leadership might be for you.

Bottom Line

Knowing Isn’t Doing. Reading about leadership and thinking about leadership will help you learn about leadership. But the only way to learn if leadership is for you is to do it. Try on the role.

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