There is a crisis in America. There is a shortage of good leaders and it seems to be getting worse. The problem, as Susan Cain points out, is people are choosing leadership for the wrong reasons.
“Great leaders don’t set out to be a leader… they set out to make a difference” ~ Lisa Haisha
Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking and founder of Quiet Revolution, is changing how the world thinks about introverts. As someone who appreciates the importance of introverts, I enjoy her insights. If you follow my blog, you know I have written about the power of introverted leaders and the importance of listening to the quietest person in the room.
While Susan is known for her writings on introverts, it’s her recent thoughts on leadership that got my attention. In a recent New York Times piece called Not Leadership Material? Good. The World Needs Followers. She explains that, in America today, we have “glorified” leadership so much that people are taking on leadership roles for the wrong reasons. They are becoming leaders to get recognition, more money or to help their educational opportunities or careers.
She explains, “Perhaps the biggest disservice done by the outsize glorification of ‘leadership skills’ is the practice of leadership itself — it hollows it out, it empties it of meaning. It attracts those who are motivated by the spotlight rather than by the ideas and people they serve. It teaches [people] to be a leader for the sake of being in charge, rather than in the name of a cause or idea they care about deeply. The difference between the two states of mind is profound.”
While the focus of her article is to point out the importance of those who don’t chose the leadership path, she indirectly uncovers the crisis in the current state of leadership. There is a shortage of good leaders. People are choosing to lead for the wrong reasons which is why there are so many poor leaders.
“To do great things is difficult; but to command great things is more difficult.” ~ Friedrich Nietzsche
If you want to be a leader, the first question you should ask is why. Why do you want to be a leader? If you are choosing this role for the paycheck, the title, the prestige, the power, or the trappings of the position, you are going to be disappointed. Leadership is difficult. Being responsible for motivating a group of people to accomplish a goal isn’t something you choose to do without careful consideration.
Let me suggest three questions to ask yourself.
Do you have a passion for leadership? Just like selecting any career, ask yourself if you have the passion to lead. To be a leader means you have the full responsibility of an organization and all the people associated with it. It means you will be accountable for everything that happens on your watch. It is a difficult and sometimes lonely job that demands a 24/7 commitment. Ask yourself if you have the passion and desire to be a great leader.
Do you care deeply about the idea or organization? As the leader, all eyes will be on you. Your attitudes toward the mission will reverberate throughout the organization. Like a conductor, your team will be taking cues from you. If you care deeply about the organization’s mission, they will as well. If you are half-hearted, they will be too. Ask yourself if you care deeply about the idea or organization you will lead.
Do you love people? The one thing I see most in poor leaders is their negative attitude towards people. Leadership is a people business. Your entire job is to motivate people towards accomplishing a goal. Unfortunately, many people choose leadership who don’t like people. I understand. People are messy. They have issues, problems, emotions, relationships, and baggage. But your job is to see past the flaws, love your people, and motivate them to do great things. You can’t be a great leader if you don’t love people.
As Susan Cain points out, people are choosing to lead for the wrong reasons. The result is a hollowed out, empty version of leadership that’s not good for people or organizations. Leadership, like any other profession, requires a specific set of skills. If you don’t have them, you shouldn’t pursue a leadership path.
Ask yourself these three questions and determine if you have a passion to lead. Find out if you care deeply about the mission. Understand your view of people and what it takes to lead them. If you choose to lead, be a great leader. The country could use better, not more, leaders.
What do you think? What other questions can you ask to determine your motivation to lead? Why do so many people choose leadership that don’t have the necessary skill sets? Is this just a problem in America? What about in other cultures?