NextGen Know-How: 5 Signs You Should Not Be a Leader

manager avoiding employees by hiding behind computer monitor at his desk
Laurie Maddalena, MBA, CSP, CPCC Photo
Executive Coach/Consultant
Envision Excellence LLC

4 minutes

Not everyone has the competencies required to be a leader. Here’s how to tell if leadership isn’t the best career path for you or your employees.

Most managers don’t receive any formal training before being promoted into a leadership role. That was certainly the case for me. My first official leadership position was a supervisor for the IT help desk at an insurance company. No one formally sat me down and shared what was expected of me in my new role, and there was no training class for me to attend. I thought my job was to give instructions and answer questions, but there is lot more required to be a successful leader. It took time, experience, and—yes, eventually—formal training for me to understand what skills were important to be an exceptional leader. I’ve seen many people have this experience: They are promoted to a leadership role without fully understanding what it takes to be successful.

In fact, not everyone is meant to be a leader. When I worked for a credit union, one of the best performers on my team told me she had no interest in moving into a leadership role. She realized that having tough conversations, managing personalities and giving feedback to employees was not something she would enjoy or be good at. I always admired her for knowing her strengths and what she wanted in her career, because most employees aspire to a leadership role without knowing what it truly entails.

Whether you are currently in a leadership role or you aspire to a leadership position one day, here are five signs—updated from my previous list of four—that you should not be a leader.

1. You prefer to work alone.

Leadership is about inspiring others to bring out their best and help them achieve individual and organizational goals. This requires consistent coaching, supporting and recognition of employees. Exceptional leaders don’t see these as duties they somehow have to fit in to their busy schedule and workload; they see them as a responsibility to foster the potential in each employee and the team. Exceptional leaders realize that spending time with their people is a great investment toward mutual success. It’s OK to prefer to work alone, but that probably means you shouldn’t be a leader. Cultivating relationships is the foundation of inspiring people to make their best contribution.

2. You avoid confrontation.

Most people don’t like confrontation, but leaders must put those feelings aside and have difficult conversations. There are some universal truths in leadership: People will not always meet expectations, and things will not always go as planned. As a leader, you will often need to approach uncomfortable situations with your employees, your colleagues and even your boss. Exceptional leaders don’t avoid these situations—they see them as a necessary step for working through issues and moving forward.

3. You prefer doing technical work.

One of the biggest challenges that holds leaders back from being successful is the inability to delegate. Many leaders who were superstars in a contributor role have a hard time not putting their technical expertise to use and getting into the weeds. But the competencies needed to be successful in a leadership role are very different from a technical role. Leadership is about getting results through people, not by yourself. So, if you prefer doing technical work, that’s a good sign that you should remain in a technical role where you can shine.

4. You think the people side of the business is ‘too soft.’

Two important elements of successful leadership are getting results and fostering positivity. You cannot have a successful team if you don’t have both of these elements. If you think focusing on employee engagement is not worth your time and effort, you should not be a leader. Engagement leads to higher productivity, which leads to results. Exceptional leaders spend most of their time developing and supporting their employees. If this “softer” people-focused side of the business is not appealing, you should not be a leader.

5. You’d rather fix than facilitate.

Great leaders facilitate exceptional performance from their teams by instilling ownership and accountability in others through coaching, supporting and guiding them to their potential and getting results. This takes time, energy and effort, and it requires leaders to frequently adjust their style to be effective with employees’ different preferences and personalities. If you’d prefer to fix problems and accomplish daily activities rather than spending time guiding, supporting and coaching others to elicit their highest potential (and to fix the problems themselves), that’s a good sign you should not be a leader.

Leadership is not the best career path for everyone. We need to make it OK for people to opt out of being a leader. We shouldn’t just want anyone or even any high performer in leadership—we need people in leadership roles who are capable of serving others and focusing a lot of time and effort on the development of their people. We need people in leadership roles who understand the importance of delegation, coaching and employee recognition. And we need to stop promoting technical superstars to leadership roles because we think it’s the next and only natural step. It’s not the best next step for everyone.

Laurie Maddalena, MBA, CSP, CPCC, is a certified executive coach, leadership consultant and founder of CUES Supplier member 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

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