Why be a leader?

Why

Why (Photo credit: banoootah_qtr)

Close to a battlefield over 200 years ago, a man in civilian clothes rode past a small group of exhausted battle-weary soldiers digging an obviously important defensive position. The section leader, making no effort to help, was shouting orders, threatening punishment if the work was not completed within the hour.

“Why are you are not helping?” asked the stranger on horseback.

“I am in charge. The men do as I tell them,” said the section leader, adding, “Help them yourself if you feel strongly about it.”

To the section leader’s surprise the stranger dismounted and helped the men until the job was finished. Before leaving the stranger congratulated the men for their work, and approached the puzzled section leader.

“You should notify top command next time your rank prevents you from supporting your men – and I will provide a more permanent solution,” said the stranger. Up close, the section leader now recognised General Washington, and also the lesson he’d just been taught.

Why would anyone want to be a leader? For close on a dozen years, I have led teams of people in Temenos. When I speak to people about leadership, there are people who say that they could never take on the responsibility. There is a lot of responsibility, but I don’t think it’s where people think it is.

Many people think that the main responsibility you take on is to get stuff done. I would argue that this is indeed important, but I think it is a side effect of the real responsibility of leadership. The true responsibility of leaders is to create an environment in which your people are happy and productive, which is not always easy.

If you are a leader for any length of time, you will go through ups and downs. In my 12 years, I have faced a lot of downs. The most reliable people in the world will occasionally let you down. Often it will be at the worst possible moment and after you have backed that person to the hilt. That’s pretty tough to deal with.

Sometimes, you will have someone who simply stops performing. Maybe their attendance goes down the tubes or they are not pulling their weight. Then it’s the slow painful treadmill of performance management. You hope against hope that the person steps off the treadmill, but all too often, the treadmill leads out the door. That’s pretty depressing.

There are even harder things still. Sometimes tragedy or serious illness will strike. Sometimes you have to tell your team that the cupboard is bare. Sometimes you have to let some of them go. I don’t have any children, but the experience is as close as I can imagine to choosing which of them to lose. It is something I will never, ever get used to.

So why would anyone want to be a leader ? I can tell you, it’s not the financial reward. The answer is that there is nothing like the feeling of watching your team succeed. When your team make you proud, you want everyone to know. When you see a member of your team grow as a person, it makes all the downs pale in comparison.

So my advice – if you want to get things done – stop focussing on the things and start focussing on the team and the things will take care of themselves.