Friday, November 16, 2012

The 5 Perils of Leadership

Guest post from Miles Anthony Smith:

If we go into management to earn more, have more power/prestige, and work less, we are either na├»ve or ignorant. (And let’s admit right now that those are precisely the reasons most of us go into management.)

1. Prepare to be Hated
Wise leaders accept that some decisions will be unpopular. If you can’t handle others’ disapproval, then leadership probably isn’t for you. Trying to be everyone’s friend is a futile and selfish effort. Most of us want to be liked; as we progress through school, we do things to get others to accept us (with varying levels of success). We try to wear the cool clothes, have a cool car, or take the cool classes. We then carry those bad habits into the workplace; we do things to attain the approval of others, allowing true accountability to wither. Some of us want so desperately to be accepted that we will sacrifice the good of the rest of the organization for our own selfish emotional gain. While it might help in the short-term, the pursuit of approval is a guarantee of long-term failure. Those who don’t throw their leadership opportunities away in pursuit of approval will be teased at best; at worst, they will be ridiculed, mocked, and defamed. So prepare to be hated, but remember that the haters are the ones who don’t matter. The ones who do matter will sincerely appreciate your leadership and implicitly trust your guidance, since you have proven your constancy and trustworthiness.

2. Conquer Your Fears
In life, but especially in leadership positions, we all face fears. We fear not being accepted, feelings of inadequacy, shame, rejection, discomfort, and the list goes on. My response (and I am speaking to myself more loudly than others) is, “We’re all afraid . . . so what!” We must choose to get over our fears and not allow them to hinder our growth and development as leaders. So what if we don’t have it all together. So what if we didn’t go to the right school; so what if we didn’t have a good mentor. We all have something to offer, and we must choose to focus on what we do have to offer, not what we don’t. And remember the dirty little secret is that those who are acting like they have it all together really don’t.

3. Betrayals are Par for the Course
One thing that fuels fears about the future is past betrayals, and betrayal is one of the ultimate tests of leadership. Are we willing to walk in forgiveness with those who betray or seem to have betrayed us? Are we going to wall ourselves off from future close relationships with others, or are we going to allow intimate relationships with others that ultimately might mean another betrayal? I do recommend that we are wise in this, not allowing obviously dysfunctional people close to us, but we can’t use that as an excuse to not be vulnerable. I admit that forgiving betrayal is difficult for me, but I must choose to let those circumstances go, since unforgiveness only hurts me, not the other person. I would rather choose to remain vulnerable and be taken advantage of than be so skeptical of others that I have no intimate friendships.

4&5: Get Comfortable with Discomfort & Vulnerability
Leaders also get to be uncomfortable; it’s part of the job description. At one point, I resigned from a position with a company and had the choice to leave without talking to anyone or come back the next day and give my leaders some closure. As painful and emotional as I knew it would be, I chose the latter and am glad I did. As leaders, we don’t have the luxury of shirking painful responsibilities even though we would like to. Leadership is not necessarily safe but can be perilous to our career; it involves much more risk than just being a team member. Our actions as leaders are held to a much higher standard, and criticism of our leadership decisions is much more out in the open for everyone to see. Simply being a team member allows more anonymity for the quality of work and decisions made. If things don’t work out in leadership, that person usually doesn’t have the opportunity to move to another position within the company like a non-manager does.

The Bottom Line
So if the perils of leadership are hatred, discomfort, vulnerability, fear, and betrayal, why should anyone lead? This world desperately needs leaders who aren't afraid of the discomfort that is required of leadership and will do the gnarly job of putting the needs of others first, not their own selfish interests. Without true selfless leadership, pride, ego, and self-interest will destroy organizational, political, and societal culture. So I challenge us to look for ways to coach and teach others that even though being "others focused" is often painful in the short term, it is valuable and worthwhile in the long run. I invite you to join me on this challenging, yet satisfying leadership journey together.

About Miles Anthony Smith:
Born a Hoosier, raised an Okie, and currently residing in the Frozen Tundra of Green Bay, Wisconsin, Miles Anthony Smith, a Gen X'er leader, cares enough about organizational health to make the tough decisions, hire and coach the right people, set clear expectations, develop a strong team culture, and strengthen organizational cash flow, exhibiting both humility and fierce resolve. His mission in life is “To Chart the Course, Pave the Pathway, and Light the Lane for Others to Eclipse My Own Success in Leadership.”
He’s the author of the new book Why LeadershipSucks: Fundamentals of Level 5 Leadership and Servant Leadership.


Ashok Vaishnav said...

As is well-known, there is no free lunch. And, as the lunch gets on becoming sumptuous, the bill also gets fatter. And more interesting aspect, is that leadership is a narrow, one-way street.
“Leadership” – the practice thereof – also cannot expect it to be an exception to these.
Everyone in the leadership position has certainly come to know the perils of ‘leading’. And those who aspire to ‘lead’ ought to be aware before taking up that portion of a Y-junction in one’s life territory.
Does this mean that you have to have ‘that material’ to ‘last the race ‘of leadership practice? In other words, if one does not have requisite mental framework, cultural upbringing and unfathomable reserves of self-motivation, can a ‘leader be made’?

MilesAnthonySmith said...

Hi Ashok, it is interesting to listen to the debate around whether nurture or nature more strongly influences and creates great leaders, but I believe it is a bit of both. That said, just about anyone with the drive, determination, and perseverance to become an effective leader can do so. Thanks for your comment! -Miles