Emerging Leader: Do You Really Want to Be a Leader?by Gregory Stebbins, EdD

Nearly 80 percent of all global companies are facing leadership talent shortages that will impact their performance. After several years of business contraction and less internal investment focused on leadership development, some companies are facing a crisis in filling future leader roles.

Seems like a perfect time to step forward from your role as an individual contributor and move into your first leadership role. Are you sure? The first place to look is inside of yourself. What is motivating you to take on a leadership role? The usual answers are money, recognition, self-preservation and perhaps even romantic ideal (not the office romance kind, it has to do with a rose-colored perception of reality).

Will you make more money? Sure, on a gross income basis you probably will. Factor in the real costs, such as the extended working hours, financial impact on your close relationships and family, perception of what you must own to maintain the “Leader Image,” etc. All of these are real hard dollar costs of stepping into the leadership spiral. And the spiral gets larger as you move upward. Nevertheless, the majority of leaders have learned to balance these demands and make it work.

Will you get recognition? Absolutely! But, perhaps not the kind you are seeking. Leadership comes with an ocean full of criticism along with a small pond of praise. Knowing who you are inside is essential to maintaining your balance when the waves of condemnation are lapping at your office door. In this situation, your sense of self will be your only life preserver. Without that you’ll find yourself sinking deeper and deeper into the whirlpool. Now is the time to understand who you are, so that you can stand on a firm foundation regardless of positive or negative comments.

Will being a leader guarantee your security? Probably not. According to The Conference Board the average tenure of a CEO declined to 8.4 years in 2011 from about 10 years in 2000. It’s even worse for a Fortune 500 CEO, where the average tenure is 4.6 years. The same choppy waters exist for other leader roles throughout the organization. Your skill in knowing others, building relationships and knowing what works or doesn’t within your organizations culture are critical to your survival.

Many emerging leaders start out as starry-eyed dreamers of building a better world. This perception evaporates rather rapidly when they are at the center of an organizational power play. You may be required to make decisions that are to the benefit of one group over the needs and desires of another group. How will you feel about yourself when faced with that situation? How will you feel about yourself when one of your strongest supporters leaves the company because of the decision you make? Do you know enough about yourself to even be conscious of these feelings or thoughts? These are questions that are well worth asking before you step into your first leadership role.

Being a leader isn’t just about having or not having power within an organization.There is real responsibility attached to being a leader. The ups and downs of other people’s lives are impacted by your decisions.The world you are entering as a leader has changed from even five years ago. Command and control styles of leadership are marginally effective in today’s organizational environment. That environment is now networked, interconnected, rapidly transforming and constantly in motion. What you do as a leader is also changing. Who you are as a leader is your primary balance point of stability.

Owning up to any limitations you might have can be difficult. You will face many choices about the amount of effort you’ll need to grow yourself. The payoff for doing this self-development work first will continue to pay benefits for yourself, but also the people who work with you. You’ll receive positive recognition for your authenticity.

The difference today is the people you gather around yourself, not to command, but to help grow. They too have their own attachments to money, recognition, self-preservation and romantic ideal. Be willing to take the time to know them as well as you know yourself.

Knowing that you will work harder than you ever have, people will criticize you for the most minor things; the higher you go, the shorter your tenure might be. Are you sure you want to be a leader?

If you’re willing to invest the time in your own personal growth and the growth of those around you, then you are most definitely cut out to be a leader in the 21st century.


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About the Author:

Dr. Stebbins has over three decades of experience coaching emerging and senior leaders in being more people savvy. A leader’s awareness, commitment, integrity and authenticity are directly shaped by their internal landscape (the habits of thought, emotion, imagination and action).