Please! Don’t be a leader!

25 May , 2016  

It sounds mean of me to say so, after chasing leadership roles for decades I sound like a hypocrite to put a title like that, but I mean it, let me see if I can impress you to think so today.

Rewind to your day one in any of your new employers induction programs, either the leaders or HR would be flashing their top talent (mostly it would be people who have ‘managed’ to attain higher positions in their company). And with a beaming smile they would tell you that’s what you can become if you perform and develop. We suddenly feel gratified that we have joined the right company and our future is secure.

You then start day dreaming about what you can become looking at a handful of people who also have hung around for long. Is it right for employers to brandish that they manufacture leaders or for employees to aspire they can become leaders without any capability that they can identify for themselves. I would like to believe that one has no choice but to aspire to be a leader as otherwise you are deemed to be seen as:

  1. Non aspirational, somebody without drive (meaning you are lazy 🙂
  2. non-competitive, how else can they  pressurize you if you are not part of a rat race ( they will start worrying why they even hired you)
  3. Can’t be moulded into the organisational needs ( you will be seen as non-flexible, meaning you won’t do things beyond your Job description)
  4. Bad example to others, everybody likes people who do the ra ra and say hail the organisation and its leaders

When you say you don’t want to be a leader you are stating that you don’t believe either in the role or the value the role creates for others, more than anything else it irks the guy sitting at the top that you are taking a dig at him. It also puts your manager and HR in an awkward position to motivate you to work harder or learn things which otherwise you may not. Ever tried saying you don’t want to be in leadership roles that organisation has thrown at you? I have 🙂 and paid the price once. I have told never say never again to myself from that day.

Saying no definitely brings an unnecessary pause to your career by being parked in roles which makes you regret your decision to be forthright to your boss and HR. It also exposes you to be passed over for promotions, reporting to your juniors, peers (it’s no shame, but let’s face it, how many of us would like to report to whom we consider junior or peers).

You also become less important to key projects or key happenings in the organisation, essentially you will dread being honest once you say no to any growth role that the organization offered you.

There are times when you say no due to personal reasons, the timing would be wrong, you are going through a break up, parents would be needing care, attention is required for kids’ education, spouse’s job would be at a crucial phase. Maybe it pays to cite some personal reasons and say no than being honest about your lack of aspiration.

Sometimes U can be real about your lack of conviction on your abilities or intent. If you are in a congenial atmosphere of trust and respect it’s likely that less harm will be inflicted on your existence and peace. Such supervisors and organisations are rare but not impossible to find.

When people tell us they can’t lead or don’t want to lead we should listen intently. One of the guys I was hiring told me that not everybody should aspire to be in the so called “No 1” roles. But I believed that he had leadership abilities and his lack of aspiration was an excuse to himself.

I went ahead and hired him only to ask him to leave later, he was right in his assessment of himself, he did not have the aspiration and whatever ability I saw in him could not fructify as his ambition was not fuelling his capabilities. Deep down people know their real abilities, they get pressurized by friends, relatives, colleagues or rather the ecosystem and take up roles only to fail in them. The price they pay in denting their self-esteem and the cost to the organisation never gets quantified.

Leadership is hard work, you need to have tremendous energy, throughout the day you can’t relax a minute as everything you do affects somebody else or influences somebody positively, you have to be accessible all the time, connect with people whom you have never met with empathy, have the right temperament for crisis, it also calls for long working hours irrespective of the industry you work for. No, it’s not a 9-6 job, you take the pressure cum responsibility home and beyond. Many leaders can’t even manage a smile early in the morning when they walk in and meet lesser mortals in the hallway. Imagine the judgement of people who put them there for all of us to suffer.

But you don’t need ‘others’ to tell you whether you can/should become a leader, if you carefully look back from your childhood to where you are today there would be instances / experiences that would tell you if you really possess traits that made a difference to others, and also whether you enjoyed being there doing that, most importantly ask yourself if you are a good sport in dealing with failures. In leadership roles, you tend to struggle everyday managing expectations upwards plus downwards and rejoice once in a while when your vision meets the results.

So be real to yourself, don’t be a pain to others by opting to lead just because

  • you were a successful individual contributor
  • or there is an opportunity to fuel your aspiration
  • your boss likes you and there is no better choice internally
  • You have bills to pay and the money is big

I know it’s easy for me to say this, I don’t know what I have inflicted on others by seizing on opportunities at the cost of others! I have my excuses, I’m sure you can find yours too!


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