Why Are You a Leader?
Chances are, if you read this blog on a regular basis, you are a manager, supervisor, or a leader of some sort in your organization. For those of you that are, I have a question for you today. Why? Why are you a leader?
Why Did You Choose to Become a Leader?
Unless you were kidnapped by some deranged militant group and forced into your role as department manager, the obvious answer is you are a leader because you chose to be one. So that helps us drill down to another level of question. Why did you choose to become a leader?
Two Reasons People Become Leaders
Nearly 30 years of working with managers and leaders has shown me that the answer to that question falls in to one of two categories:
- Recognition and reward. Maybe you chose to be a leader because you seek the recognition, title, and reward that comes from having a leadership role.
- A desire to help others succeed. Or you chose to be a leader because you couldn’t see yourself doing anything else but leading a team of individuals and helping them to be successful.
The first reason (Group A – Recognition & Reward Leaders) is often a very conscious and deliberate decision that is made on the outside based on facts and data. The second reason (Group B – Help Others Succeed) is often very personal and frequently is an unconscious decision made internally because of intuition or feeling. Either way, you made the decision. Neither is wrong. It’s just helpful to know how you arrived at the decision because it informs how you have to think about your leadership role if you want to be successful.
Group A – Recognition & Reward Leaders
If you came to your role from the Group A path, chances are you were a really good individual contributor. Whatever it was you were hired to do came extremely easy to you. You were, in fact, considered a technical expert in your field. Unfortunately, if you are like many people who are technical experts, you may have found yourself in a position where you couldn’t see forward career movement unless you went down the path of management. This path has advantages and disadvantages. The advantage is you most likely are managing a function you are extremely familiar with. If your employees are struggling with a technical aspect of the job, they can come to you for help and support. The disadvantage is that it’s often difficult to extract yourself from the day-to-day work. In fact you may still enjoy getting your hands dirty. Andy Grove, former CEO of Intel tells a story about his first time as a people manager. He was sitting in a meeting listening to one of his employees talk about some research that Andy had actually helped with before he became a manager. He said he felt sort of sad when the employee was getting the attention and the questions about the research. The spotlight was on the employee and not Andy. This is a common sentiment from managers who are promoted up from a technical position.
Leadership Tip for Group A – Recognition & Reward Leaders
Leaders from Group A need to pay particular attention to their focus. It needs to remain on the help and support of the people who report to them.
Group B – Help Others Succeed Leaders
If you are a Group B leader, you may not have been the best individual contributor in your previous role, but there was something about you that made people take notice. Perhaps it was the way you communicated with your teammates and kept them in the loop about your progress and how it might affect their work. Maybe it was that you were able to coordinate and integrate the work of others to keep a project moving along, on time and under budget. The disadvantage to arriving at leadership in this group is that these leaders often struggle with credibility issues when they are new. There is a tendency for others in the group to only look at technical ability as the measuring stick for readiness to be a leader. They have a harder time seeing the subtle nuances to leadership that aren’t directly tied to past performance. The advantage for leaders who arrive from this path is that you are often able to lead many diverse groups across the organization because your leadership ability is not based on technical expertise, but rather on your ability to get people to perform their best and get work done.
Leadership Tip for Group B – Help Others Succeed Leaders
Leaders from Group B need to pay particular attention to helping others see how their value is tied more to getting results through other people than by their own technical skill.
Regardless of which path brought you to leadership, you can be successful–as long as you made the decision based on a true desire to be a leader and not just because you didn’t see any other way to advance in the organization.