Did you choose to lead, or did your organisation choose you?

Did you choose to lead, or did your organisation choose you?

In many organisations, there is this implicit assumption that everyone aspires to be a leader.  As a result, leadership roles in these places are ever in danger of being populated by people who privately lack the interest or desire to develop the skill required to lead others effectively. We’ve probably all seen, and felt, the consequences of this at some time or another.

So, where is the source of the problem?  To be honest, I’ve been struggling a bit with this question but I have a few thoughts so here they are. First, I think we have to look to organisational culture and practices.  And second, we have to explore the possible reasons people apply for leadership roles in the first place. From an organisational perspective, these two questions come to mind:

What does the culture of the organisation support?

Culture has a lot to do with the calibre of leadership existing in any company.  In many places, those who say they aren’t interested in leadership roles are viewed as having no ambition … or worse.

If the work environment does not support or value those who prefer individual contribution, some people will feel pressure to step into roles for which they are unsuited perhaps because they feel it is expected of them or they don’t see anywhere else to go to improve their lot.

What false assumptions might the organisation be making?

In some companies, those who excel in one area of the work are often promoted and placed in charge of a group of others doing similar work.  The assumption is that s/he who excels is willing and able to bring the others up to his or her level of excellence.

In my experience, those who are good at doing are not necessarily good at teaching.  And so, often, the results of this tactic are disappointing for the company and frustrating for the individual.

There are of course other questions to ponder but the point is that if you find too many unhappy people in roles that don’t suit them; the first place to look is at how the organisation may be unwittingly supporting it.

Okay, so aside from organisational concerns, why do people choose leadership roles? Well, I think that’s a question that every person should be asked when making an application because, to make it simple, there are good reasons and there are bad reasons for choosing leadership.

I think you may be on the right track if:

•    You want to change something for the better
•    You have a genuine interest in influencing others
•    You see the reward and benefit of working with and through others
•    You believe strongly in the power of collective effort
•    Coaching, teaching and guiding are words to which you strongly relate
•    Building relationships and communicating with others is important to you
•    You accept that people will watch you, do what you do and say what you say … for better or worse
•    You accept that not everyone is going to like you
•    You are willing take the blame for group mistakes even if you didn’t make them

Conversely, you may be barking up the wrong tree if:

•    Your primary interest is more money and a promotion
•    You like the idea of telling people what to do
•    Position or status is your principal motivator
•    You view this as an opportunity to delegate the work you don’t like to do
•    You want a leadership role solely for the purpose of your own development

The bottom line

Creating workplaces where leadership roles are filled only with people who are good at leading and want to be there relies on the willingness of organisations to give greater value to, and make room for, those whose skills and talents lie elsewhere.

It also relies on the willingness of individuals to examine their real motivations before throwing their hat in the leadership ring.

That’s what I think anyway. What do you think?  Why would you choose leadership?  What else has to change?

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