Leadership is a privilege and a responsibility.
When I was fresh out of college, I worked in the IT department as a help desk representative for an insurance company in upstate New York where I grew up. I was the person you called if you had a computer problem, forgot your password or couldn’t get your macros to work in Word Perfect.
One day my boss told me he was going to hire another representative to help me and that this person would report to me. I didn’t really know much about leadership or managing, but from the outside, it looked pretty cool. Better pay, better title, a nice office and more authority. It seemed straightforward, a nice reward for doing good work. It seemed like when you became a manager, you’d finally made it.
Four weeks later, I started managing for the first time. I had no idea what I was doing. I quickly figured out that management wasn’t so straightforward after all, and frankly, not as fun as I had imagined.
As leaders, we need to give people a peek behind the curtain of what leadership really is before they become leaders. Perhaps then we will begin to fill leadership positions with people who want the job for the right reasons—to serve others and make an impact.
Here is what I would share with potential leaders before they make the leap:
So, you want to be a leader?
Before you decide, allow me to give you an idea of description being a leader is really like. Because I can tell you for sure, that the fantasy of leadership and the reality of leadership are very, very different.
If you are going to be a leader, here is what’s in store for you. And by all means, this is not an exhaustive list.
- You are responsible when your employee fails.
- Your days will be a series of meetings, employee complaints and upward delegating.
- You will rarely have a minute to yourself.
- Your role will completely change; you will be responsible for mentoring, coaching and teaching (not the technical job you once held).
- It’s often a thankless job.
- All problems will make their way up to you.
- You will spend significant time training an employee to do something you can do in five minutes.
- You will often work long hours.
- You will leave the office many days wondering what you actually accomplished.
- Meetings, more meetings…did I mention meetings?
In short, effective leadership is no walk in the park. Your focus is people, not things, and people can be complicated. Employees are motivated differently, they all have different personalities, and not everyone will share your work ethic. Your job will be to bring out the best performance in each individual employee to reach the strategic goals of your organization. This may not sound complicated, but many days it can feel like trying to run a marathon when you haven’t eaten or slept in days.
True leadership is about service. It's serving your employees by developing them and helping them reach their highest potential and personal goals. It's serving the organization by contributing your best to achieve the goals. It's serving the membership by having their best interest in mind and helping them achieve their financial dreams.
Of course, there are many rewards in leadership; it’s not all challenges and meetings. But those feelings of accomplishment and fulfillment can sometimes be overshadowed by the daily grind of leadership. Rarely will someone be standing at your door to pat you on the back for a job well done.
Leadership should be a decision, not a given or the next step for your technical superstar. Employees should know what the position really entails before they commit to leadership. Leadership is a privilege and a huge responsibility. And as organizations, we need to let people know what to expect—what their days will really be like—when they become leaders.
Laurie Maddalena, MBA, CPCC, PHR, is a certified executive coach, leadership consultant and founder of Envision Excellence, LLC in the Washington, D.C., area. Her mission is to create exceptional cultures by teaching leaders how to be exceptional. Maddalena facilitates management and executive training programs and team-building sessions and speaks at leadership events. Prior to starting her business, she was an HR executive at a $450 million credit union. Contact her at 240.605.7940 or email@example.com.