The following is adapted from Leadership — Love It or Leave It: Choosing for Yourself When the World Says Climb by Angie Noel.
When it comes to leadership, we tend to hear the same advice and platitudes over and over again, whether it’s coming from leadership “experts,” retired corporate bigwigs, or school teachers:
“There’s a leader in every one of us.”
“Be a leader, not a follower.”
“Soar like an eagle or scratch the ground like a chicken.”
“It’s better to be the lion than the sheep.”
The underlying assumption is that we should all be leaders — that every one of us should strive for roles with more responsibility and power, and that success is found at the top. School teachers say it, leadership “experts” say it, corporate bigwigs say it. Surely, it must be true.
As we say in Texas, I call bullshit.
Leadership is hard and complex. It can’t be boiled down to “five essential qualities.” And leadership is most definitely not for everyone.
Why do I say this? Because my experience and extensive research into leadership and engagement have left me one hundred percent convinced that if you don’t fully appreciate, embrace, and — dare I say — love the responsibility of influencing and impacting other human beings, then you’re creating suffering.
I know this sounds extreme in a culture where leadership is the goal. But think about all of the jobs you’ve ever had. What made the best job so great? Maybe it paid really well or maybe you got to do something you really enjoyed, but I’d be willing to bet you also had a good boss. Someone who inspired you in some way. Now think of your worst work experience. Did it happen to involve a bad boss? Was he a narcissist, a jerk, or maybe a really nice person who couldn’t communicate clearly to save his life? Someone who should not have been leading people maybe? You’re probably getting a little nauseated reliving that horror story right now. If you don’t have such a tale on your resume, then you are one of the lucky few. According to several surveys, 50 percent to 75 percent of all employees have quit at least one job to escape a bad manager.
“Bad” leaders aren’t necessarily bad people. You may even have known someone in a leadership position who seemed truly overwhelmed, stressed out, or flat-out unhappy in their role — this is a red flag that they may very well have been disengaged themselves. When “up” seems like the only way to success, people can sometimes find themselves in positions that exceed their competence or don’t align with personal goals, or both. And leaders who don’t know why they’ve taken on a leadership role tend to suffer or, at the very least, struggle. At the end of the day, suffering leaders cannot help others. Instead, they unintentionally spread their misery like a bad cold. What happens at the office rarely stays at the office. Instead, the stress from leadership that rubs off on employees also tends to follow those employees home, where they infect everyone around them — significant others, children, friends, and anyone else they interact with.
To create suffering in the workplace is to create suffering in employees’ personal and professional lives. Suffering that leaves them feeling disconnected and disengaged from everything, including the very work that leaders are supposed to support them in doing.
This is why it’s so critical to decide if leadership is really the right choice for you. A good leader — a professionally and personally fulfilled human being — can make even the most challenging work meaningful and have a positive impact on all aspects of an employee’s life.
A good leader can break the cycle of disengagement. This is what Leadership — Love It or Leave It is all about.
A New Reality
Everything about work is changing and fast. Technology and generational diversity, among other influences, are challenging every business in every industry to rethink how work gets done, where it’s done, and who’s doing it. Leadership, as a whole, is being pressured to evolve under increasingly intense and rapidly changing circumstances. And the change is happening — almost in spite of the multi-billion dollar leadership training industry struggling to keep up.
As traditional organizational structures of top-down control are beginning to give way to more transparent, collaborative, and networked models, a redistribution of authority is occurring. Leaders today face challenges that didn’t even exist ten or fifteen years ago as followership has become more prevalent and social media more influential. With thumbs up or down, likes, hearts, and angry emojis, employees are increasingly expressing their love and frustration alike with the world on any number of public forums, such as Facebook, Instagram, and Glassdoor. They can also share their opinions of your leadership style which can feel very personal.
Increasingly, employers are grappling with this demanding new reality, which requires taking a fresh perspective on leadership and developing a new set of skills. It also requires a new level of self-awareness.
As a leader you’re called to be a mentor, teacher, coach, problem solver, advocate, innovator, nurturer, enforcer, and so much more. All while protecting your organization’s reputation, driving the company agenda, improving efficiencies and growing profit margins. Tired yet? You’re also expected to be a self-sacrificing servant, happy to give all the glory and take all the blame.
These are all important and very real aspects of leadership, but as a human being it’s natural to also want to be recognized for your work — for your excellence. When you don’t receive the recognition or support you need, you can end up feeling overwhelmed, unappreciated, and exhausted. This is when nagging feelings of disengagement, discontentment, and suffering can set in, and the strain can make you wonder whether you’re cut out for leadership at all. The to-do list grows, and emotionally, you don’t feel like you can keep up.
So what do you do?
Choosing Your Path
I believe most people want to do something meaningful and impactful through their work. I suspect you are no different. The truth is that you could do a million other jobs that would be less stressful, less challenging, and probably pay more per hour. However, when you’re called, you’re called.
I believe YOU will be a good leader if that’s what you choose to do!
Or maybe you already are, and you just want some help filling that hole in your soul. I get it — you want to be as fulfilled as you are busy. I’ve been there. My hope for you is that as you learn from my experience, research, and real-world stories, you will feel encouraged to grow as a person who loves what you do, spreads joy, and brings your gifts to the world through your work in the way that only you can.
Being a leader isn’t easy. You’ll take on a ton of responsibility and face tremendous pressure to produce results. Sometimes, you’ll feel overwhelmed by all the expectations. On the other hand, leadership isn’t reserved for the enlightened. You’re not expected to know, or be, everything. With all the leadership quotes and platitudes out there, you might have gotten the idea that you should lead like Mahatma Gandhi, or Mother Teresa, or Martin Luther King, Jr. Nobody should be held to these ridiculous standards of “great leadership.” Yes, there’s plenty to learn from these luminary leaders, but let’s get real. You live in your world. Your leadership skills will be honed through your experiences in that world, and your perspective will be shaped by your particular situation, your team’s needs, and who you decide to be as a leader.
As hard as it may be to lead others, it can also be extremely rewarding. The fact that you’ve picked up this book means you know that, you take it seriously, and you want to do it well. As you move through this guide, I encourage you to commit to being honest with yourself. Self-awareness is not always an easy thing, but if you’ll take some time to really consider the questions this book poses and discover what leadership means to you, you’ll come out the other side miles ahead of other people, professionally and personally. Reading Leadership — Love It or Leave It is your opportunity to choose for yourself if leadership is right for you.
You can find out if leadership is right for you in Leadership — Love It or Leave It on Amazon.
Angie Noel wants to change the way we talk about leadership. As an HR executive, she spent twenty years supporting hundreds of leaders — frontline to CEO — many struggling with stress, frustration, and self-doubt. After overcoming her own burnout and disengagement, Angie committed to helping others avoid that suffering by getting candid about the unspoken challenges of leadership. A sought-after speaker and coach known for her human behavior expertise, extreme motivation, and tough love, Angie inspires clients and audiences to take control of their leadership journey to achieve professional success and personal fulfillment. Angie is the founder and CEO of Leading With Mission, and lives in Texas. Learn more at angienoel.com.