Leadership is not for everyone. Is it for you?

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Merriam-Webster defines leadership as “the office or position of a leader; capacity to lead; and the act or instance of leading.” I contend that leadership is more than a title, ability, or action. Unlike management, leadership isn’t about positional authority alone, or at all. At its core, leadership is about influence. Without followers and people who are willing to take action to realize a vision or goal, there can be no leader, but leadership isn’t for everyone.

Below are five questions to consider so you determine whether leadership is for you. I’ve written about these and other crucial tools for helping leaders improve relationships, gain executive presence and succeed in my new book, The Heart of a Leader: 52 Emotional Intelligence Insights to Advance Your Career.

What are you seeking — title, money, power, or impact?

            It’s an exhilarating feeling to be promoted. Just be sure you’re not just chasing a title, money or power. These can all be deceiving and quickly suck the joy out of managerial leadership. Leadership has its fair share of challenges. Good leaders put others ahead of themselves, take responsibility for the outcomes –good and bad – and make decisions others may never understand. If you have the drive to succeed, despite obstacles, and consistent demonstrate that you can leave people, teams and organizations better than you how you found them, then leadership might be for you. Leadership is not for the faint at heart, but it’s so rewarding for those who are willing to take the leap.

Do others see you at the next level, or are you cheering for yourself, by yourself?

            One of the toughest conversations a manager or mentor can have with an employee is breaking the news that they’re not ready to be promoted. I’ve been on both sides of the conversation, so I can empathize with an overzealous, overconfident, or out of touch employee who aspires to the next level, but just isn’t ready.

Getting promoted before you’re ready can backfire. So how do you know when you’re prepared for the next level of leadership?

  • You’re able to juggle multiple demands with ease and time to spare.
  • You see opportunities and build consensus for ideas and suggestions.
  • Your work is consistently recognized as being stellar.
  • People come to you for advice, guidance, and coaching.
  • Your boss regularly assigns additional projects to you.

After talking with your manager and mentors, seek internal opportunities and explore external opportunities. Doing so will help you assess your market value, provide a point of contrast, and enable negotiation leverage.

Are you willing to change, or stuck in your ways?

As Marshall Goldsmith captured in his best-selling book, What Got You Here Won’t Get You There. Every level of leadership requires behavioral tweaks to increase your effectiveness. I call it learning, and un-learning. Taking the time for reflection to increase self-awareness, while being mindful of the organizations’ culture, dynamics, and power relationships, will give you clues on what to adjust. The most effective leaders also solicit and take heed to feedback, then take active steps manage their personal brand. I discuss this in detail in Chapter 1 – Why Great Performance Isn’t Enough.

Stanford Psychologist Carol Dweck authored Mindset, which describes the difference between a “fixed” versus “growth” mindset. According to Dweck, when someone has a fixed mindset, they believe that their basic abilities, intelligence, and talents are fixed traits that cannot be changed. They think, “That’s just the way I am. Take it or leave it.”

Define Leadership

On the other hand, people with a growth mindset have an underlying belief that their learning and intelligence can grow with time, experience, learning, and effort. “In this mindset, the hand you’re dealt is just the starting point for development. This growth mindset is based on the belief that your basic qualities are things you can cultivate through your efforts. Although people may differ in every which way — in their initial talents and aptitudes, interests, or temperaments — everyone can change and grow through application and experience.”[1]

If you’re committed to realizing your leadership potential and advancing your career, agility is critical. Often, this occurs in small tweaks, not revolutionary pivots, and it can make all the difference in your leadership success.

Will you let other people be smarter than you?

            One of the biggest transitions you’ll make moving from an individual contributor to a manager is not being the subject matter expert. In keynote speeches, I often share that the higher you go, the less you should know. It’s not an assault on your intelligence; rather, it’s an acknowledgement that your team is often closer to the customer and more intimately involved with details of the business than you. Therefore, it behooves you to fully tap into their expertise.

No matter how smart or accomplished you are, you’re doing a disservice to the organization and team if you don’t leverage other people’s knowledge, skills, and experiences. Seeking diverse, and even dissenting, opinions and perspectives from subject matter experts, generalists, end users, and other stakeholders helps you to make more sound decisions. Plus, you’ll build followership along the way.

Are you just as committed to people as you are to accomplishing tasks?

No matter what industry or function you work in, if you’re a manager, you’re in the people business. Therefore, it is critical to study people just as much, or more than, you studied functional subjects like Finance, Marketing, and Human Resources. That’s why I wrote Chapter 3 – What you Need to Lead but Won’t Learn in Business School. Leadership is about influencing others, which requires an investment of time to listen, learn, engage, and develop your team.

An employees’ relationship with their manager is one of the most important relationships they need to advance their career. As a manager, you influence employees’ job performance ratings, salaries, professional brands, and upward mobility. The relationship is also critical for you as a leader because the quality of employee output –their work product—is often determined by the quality of your input, for example clear goals and metrics, recognition, constructive feedback, and providing developmental opportunities for growth. As a manager of others, you’ll spend much more time in meetings than accomplishing tasks. After all, the higher you go, the most work gets accomplished through other people, not your efforts alone.

In conclusion, only you can determine if leadership is right for you. Before pursuing a management role, hone your leadership skills in volunteer organizations like employee resources groups, community, or religious organizations. A true test of influential leadership is influencing others who have no incentive to follow you. If you determine that managerial leadership isn’t for you, there’s no shame. Be great at whatever you do.

This guest post was authored by Kristin Harper

Kristin Harper is CEO of Driven to Succeed, LLC, a leadership development company that provides brand strategy consulting, market research, and keynote speaking on leadership and emotional intelligence. She is also author of The Heart of a Leader: 52 Emotional Intelligence Insights to Advance Your Career.


[1] Carol Dweck, Mindset, (New York: Ballantine Books, 2006), pages 6-7.

Ms. Career Girl

Ms. Career Girl was started in 2008 to help ambitious young professional women figure out who they are, what they want and how to get it.

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