“Do You Really Want to Be a Leader?”

I’ve been musing for some time over a highly realistic article with the above title that appeared in the Wall Street Journal in
November last year.  The article begins by dismissing the issue of
whether leaders are born or made, and continues with the truth that we
really don’t know whether we’re leadership material until we try very
hard to express it.  Based on the recent brain science and orientation
to growth, they’re response is exceptionally accurate.  A gloss of Daniel Coyle’s book title might be:  Leadership isn’t born.  It’s grown.

The authors of the article, Preston Bottger and Jean-Louis Barsoux
of IMD International, the Swiss-based MBA program, point out that
senior level jobs are massive, complex and full of conflict.  That’s
the best set-up for understanding leadership that I’ve ever seen.  They
also emphasize the political dimensions of leadership, that the higher
a person goes, the more he or
she must deal with other high-caliber people who know how to get what
they want, are difficult, strong-willed and have a sharp appetite for
power. 

Although
the authors focus on questions that execs should ask themselves about
whether they want to be leaders, the questions are just as important
for Gen-Yers moving into their first job. 

How far do you want to go up the ladder?

Going
up the ladder requires you to continuously make choices that will
affect other people’s lives  and livelihood.  Furthermore, you’ll be
doing this in a context where others will be competing with you and
wanting the next job up.

Here’s
a useful exercise.  Look at your immediate boss’s job and ask whether
you could do it as well or better yourself–honestly.  And take a look
further up the ladder.  What must those people deal with on a daily
basis?  What will their jobs require that you currently lack the
experience and tools for?

What are you really willing to invest?

I
keep an old Spanish proverb in my front lobes at all times:  “Purchase
what you may, but pay for it.”  Everything comes with a price to it. 
You may want to lead, but it will require a great deal of investment. 
Leadership requires business smarts, people smarts, technical
capabilities, but above all it is about power. 

The brutal reality is that whatever else a leader must do, a leader must gain, exercise and retain power.

You will be giving up pleasures and there’ll be plenty of questions about balancing personal and family life.  A
COO of one of America’s leading firms once hired me for help in
managing his time and work.  He quietly informed me that he had to make
some changes or there would be a divorce in the offing.  (He was
successful in making the changes!)  That is not an unusual experience. 

Furthermore,
as a leader you must take people where they have never been before, in
terms of perspectives, ideas and behaviors.  A major piece of
leadership is not only about your own willingness to make change, but
also your ability to lead people to make change.

How will you keep it up?

Over
several decades, you’ll need to find ways to keep learning,maintaine
cutting-edge expertise and especially keep yourself motivated.  As
often as not, you’ll be unrecognized for your performance.  The authors
summarize the fundamental issues of keeping up as physical vitality,
emotional flexibility and intellectual freshness. 

One
of the weaknesses of successful people is that  once they arrive, they
become closed, set in their ways and stop learning.  My experience has
been that that experience is more true of leaders than not.  That may
well be the reason that so few continue in leadership. 

Yeah.  You can grow leadership, and it’s quite learnable, but the reality is that there are an awful lot of issues involved. 

So.  Do you really want to be a leader?

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