Why you want to lead – a necessary question

As we age and mature through life’s stages, it’s important to ask ourselves where our lives are going and what truly brings us fulfillment, purpose and joy.

Lately I’ve pondered how important holding a leadership position in my career would ultimately be. While I have no doubt of my abilities to successfully perform the role (as I have in the past), there’s more to being a “leader” than simply achieving the title.

Yes, we all have functions of our jobs that require us to be a “leader” to some degree, but leadership comes with responsibilities and expectations that few people who hold such a position ever fully realize.

I’ve experienced truly amazing leadership, mediocre leadership and down right awful leadership – learning invaluable lessons from each.

Perhaps Klaus Balkenhol sums my feelings up best: “There is a difference between being a leader and being a boss. Both are based on authority. A boss demands blind obedience; a leader earns his authority through understanding and trust.”

With thoughts of leadership on my mind, I recently came across an incredibly eye-opening article by Douglas R. Conant entitled Leaders: Do you know why you want to lead?

Few of us would ever ask such a question of ourselves, and yet it goes a long way to further understanding why sometimes it feels like we’re living in a world without respectable leadership.

Conant says that, “Much too often, people become leaders because doing so was merely the next logical step in their careers. They know what they want to get from the position (i.e. a new challenge, more prestige, better pay) but many have a tenuous grasp on what they hope to give. Sure, they’ve got a reason to lead but they are vague about their purpose. This is insufficient.”

  • Becoming a “leader” simply because it’s the next natural progression does NOT mean you know how to lead.
  • Becoming a “leader” because of the power and control it provides you over others does NOT mean you know how to lead.
  • Becoming a “leader” for notoriety and financial gain does NOT mean you know how to lead.

The sad reality? These are probably the reasons why many aspire to a leadership level in their careers. As John C. Maxwell once said, “Leadership is not about titles, positions, or flow charts. It is about one life influencing another.”

It’s that positive influence which is truly immeasurable in the grand scheme of things. It’s one of the greatest assets a leader can have – one of the qualities which separates someone who can lead with someone who’s just “the boss”.

Do you know why you want to lead? It’s such a powerful (and under utilized) question in the world today. If only people had the courage to answer it honestly and accurately, then maybe the leadership we’re all surrounded with would be that of character and integrity, not personal gain and self-preservation.

“First and foremost – you are accountable to yourself. But how can you hold yourself accountable if you have not taken the time to reflect on who you are, why you choose to lead, and what matters to you most? You can’t. And you owe it to everyone around you to make a commitment to find out.” Douglas R. Conant