The first time I encountered an opportunity to step forward into a leadership position as a working professional, I didn’t hesitate:
No thanks. I don’t want to be anybody’s boss.
There was going to be an opening at the top of the office, and multiple people pulled me aside encouraging me to run for the post. It was early in the process, and the big case I was working on at the time would’ve provided the right kind of momentum towards landing the promotion. All I had to do was raise my hand, put myself out there, and let go of the safety of the known. However, being an “individual contributor” and answering for the work I did with the cases assigned to me was much more predictable and psychologically comfortable to me. Why would I want to give that up for the chance to have people answering to me for the work they did with the cases assigned to them? Getting to be “The Boss” was not appealing to me at all, and not worth the hassle even with the extra salary it would bring.
What an impoverished view of Leadership I had.
Leading isn’t about bossing, nor is it about having people answer to you for their work. Rather, it is about serving those whom you lead by accepting the responsibility of answering for the work they do. Correctly understanding this principle unleashes the power of a team, enabling eye-popping turnarounds in results and turning a cadre of followers into a deep bench of future leaders … even in a top-down, tightly disciplined organization like the US Navy. (Listen to former USN nuclear submarine commander Capt. David Marquet explain how this works himself on The Learning Leader Show. Or, read his book: Turn the Ship Around!)
How many more would-be leaders are out there, in your organization, for whom this misguided interpretation of “Leader = Being People’s Boss” keeps them from stepping forward and seeking out the responsibility of leadership? Who are the people who could bring diverse assets to your leadership ranks if they only could see past this lie about the nature of Leadership?
Better question: how many people are already in leadership positions in your organizations precisely because they want to be The Boss? If you follow Adam Grant‘s line of thinking in Give and Take, this is the more critical of the two questions to ask yourself quickly, answer correctly, and deal with appropriately.