We live in a culture where “leadership” is the ultimate. It’s a linear path that everyone is on, from peon to president. Only a select few ever reach the promised land. The rest give up or die trying.
I think this is a complete load of crap. Here are four reasons:
1. Not everyone is cut out to be a leader.
Why is it that we take amazing practitioners (engineers, artists, hard-workers) and “promote” them to leadership status? Somehow we think that if someone is great at something, they’ll be really great at leading other people to do the same thing. This is completely false. While leadership skills can be sharpened, leaders are born, not made. Some of the best leaders in a given field have no ability to actually do the task. Likewise, some of the best practitioners in a given field have no ability to lead others. This practice of turning practitioners into leaders (a) produces poor leadership and (b) removes amazing practitioners from the field. Now our mission fails and our team is frustrated.
2. True leadership isn’t glamorous. It’s a frustrating, thankless job.
We mistakenly define “leadership” as being in charge of people. The more people you’re in charge of, the more important you are = the better leader you are. That’s not leadership. True leadership is stepping into a firing range, raising your hands, and shouting something that will probably get you shot with the hope that, just maybe, people will hear the truth in what you’re saying and change their direction. But there’s a good chance you’ll just get blown to smithereens. Most leaders become martyrs. Only a few see results. But a true leader is motivated by the potential of their cause succeeding, not by the number of people who might someday answer to them. There’s no glamour. It’s a life of frustration and rejection and constantly feeling mis-judged. It’s always having to dump on your poor spouse who happens to be the only person who believes in you.
3. “Leaders” are fat, slow, and accomplish nothing.
Isn’t this why we want to be a leader? Because it’s the life! Once you reach “leader” status, people do what you tell them to do. They give you the affirmation you need. You can lead from a golf course with a few txts to a subordinate while they do all of the grunt work. But you can feel it nagging in the back of your mind… what if everyone realizes I’m really doing absolutely nothing? The world will go on. And that’s exactly what happens when you die. Do you really want that? Not to mention you’re bored out of your mind - that’s why you’re on the golf course, isn’t it? You have to simulate adventure. Meanwhile you fantasize about the days when you used to actually do something. You didn’t have any money and no one respected you, but at least then you could respect yourself. Now you live in constant fear of being deemed obsolete. Your new job is to protect your position. So you call meetings…
People don’t actually want to be leaders. They want to be dictators and celebrities. This is something else entirely. In the New Testament (Mark 10) some of Jesus’ disciples ask to be second-in-command. His first response: “You have no idea what you’re asking for. It’s a life of pain. Do you really want that?” Their response: A naive “yep!”. Jesus’ second response: “Well, that seat is reserved for someone else - you’re not it.” He goes on to say their idea of leadership is backwards. It’s not to rule people - it’s to serve them. Leading is a hard life of servitude and rejection, not of power and control.
If you’re supposed to be a leader, move forward with a realistic expectation of what that means. You may never see results, but you’ll die if you don’t try. You have no choice. Drop your guard, step into the firing range, and say what you need to say… daily.
If you’re not a leader but have found yourself in a leadership position or feel yourself being dragged along the path that will eventually take you there, get the heck out. Go back to doing what you were made for - not what people are guilting you into. Contrary to popular belief, there is not a shortage of leaders in this world. There are just as many as have been born.