My first foray into leadership was an abysmal failure. I was exhausted, fearful, arrogant and out-of-touch. I did lots of pretend-leadership that was the equivalent of lip-service to those I served. I had exactly NO CLUE. I was intelligent. I worked hard. I cared. I wanted to do well, but I simply did not grasp the idea that leadership was a series of actions, as opposed to a role assigned.

I made some good decisions. I made some bold moves. I did my best, but in some cases my best wasn’t close to good enough. It has only been the last 5 or so years that I have been able to look at myself in the mirror and forgive myself for some of the errors I made as a young, naïve leader. I ventured into the arena, fully armoured, sword drawn, ready to do battle for the good of the organization. I was a picture, like Joan of Arc, less the bloody battle. In fact, the armour I though was protecting me was harming me and those I led.

Leading is a tough job. Tough enough to make one wonder why so many aspire to such lofty ideals. Why? Great question. Although I would love to get all esoteric and ‘Brene Brown’ about this, let’s first look at the un-sexy facts. The reasons people lead are varied, but they sometimes appear self-centered, earning leaders a pretty unflattering reputation.

  1. Money: People in high-level positions get paid more than those in roles with less responsibility.
  2. Status: Whose parents haven’t been at a dinner party proudly proclaiming, “Dea is the Western Canadian Regional Manager.” It has a fancy ring doesn’t it? Regardless of how vehemently we deny the fact, titles get noticed.
  3. Power: Leaders get to make decisions. For better or worse, leaders want to affect change and they often have the ability to do so.

At first blush, it looks a bit damning. On the surface, leadership appears like a fairly self-serving endeavor, but if you look closer, you can see some core values that make most leaders worthy of a following.

  1. Ambition: There is no reason to feel ashamed of aspiring to put a bit more moola in your sock, at the end of every pay cycle. It’s how we upgrade our car, go on vacation or buy that expensive organic fruit at the grocery store. Getting paid for doing more work or taking a greater responsibility than your colleagues is not selfish, it is prudent. Add to that the confidence it takes to aspire to and achieve higher levels of leadership, garners trust from those following. I don’t know about you, but I’m more likely to follow the bloke who’s got his shit together, sooner than the hot-mess that thinks the role was “just made for me”.
  2. Visibility: A title is more than a status symbol. A title helps customers, colleagues, and business associates identify the people, with whom they should be interacting (for whatever reason). Yes, your parents probably like throwing around your newfound acclaim, but no one else really cares. That is, until they have to discuss an HR issue, or connect with ‘Legal’, or move a 3000 sq ft home, or have a bone set… Then we are all up in arms, elbow deep in research and recommendations, rabid about finding the right professional. Titles help you connect with the people you need. Period.
  3. Autonomy: There are two types of change agents in the workplace; the ones who aspire to positions of influence and the ones who gossip and bitch in the coffee room. Not everyone who makes it to a leadership position is ready to lead, but rest assured, they are ready to challenge the status quo and ethical enough to avoid the coffee-clatch. In spite of the odds, they have the courage to believe things can get better. Perhaps, for this reason alone, they are worthy of our respect.

I continue to be intrigued by leaders; good and bad, effective and inept, authentic and pretentious. I have been on both sides of the leadership desk and what I have discovered is this, it is easy to pass judgement from a place of safety. Brene Brown uses the term, “cheap-seat feedback” to explain the criticism that comes from those who don’t dare to enter the leadership arena, authentically and unarmoured. Those who preach from a safe distance, or worse, use their position of influence strictly for personal gain (selling from the stage, if you will) are not worth your time or attention. Lead on, with compassion and confidence and never feel ashamed of your drive, ambition and daring. Conversely, love yourself enough to forgive your blunders and learn from your failures, because this is how great leaders are made. It takes courage to change the world (or some small piece of it.) Lead on.

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