Leadership might be a bad choice for you if

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The Wall Street Journal recently ran an article by Preston. Bottger and Jean-Louis Barsoux titled: "Do you really want to be a leader?" The authors suggest that the answer to their question will be clear after you answer three more questions.

How far do you want to go?
What are you willing to invest?
How will you keep at it?

Fair enough. But those questions presuppose that you know that you want to do leadership work and that you're pretty sure you'll be good at it.

There's not much point in taking on a job unless you have some evidence that you'll handle it well. If you're an individual contributor thinking about pursuing a leadership career, here are some questions to use for self-assessment.

Do you like helping others succeed? If you don't, leadership is a bad choice.

Can you make a decision? If you can't, leadership is a bad choice.

Are you OK with having your success depend on your team? If you aren't, leadership is a bad choice.

Are you willing to confront other people about behavior and performance? If you're not, leadership is a bad choice.


Wally's Working Supervisor's Support Kit is a collection of information and tools to help working supervisors do a better job. It's based on what Wally's learned in over twenty years of supervisory skills training. Click here to check it out.



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  • 12/8/2009 8:41 PM Mary Jo Asmus wrote:
    Wally, great list to which I would add: Do you actually like people?
    Reply to this
    1. 12/9/2009 9:00 AM Wally Bock wrote:

      Go point, Mary Jo. It's hard to like helping them succeed if you don't like them and a lot of your success will come from relationships. It's hard to have good ones if you don't like people.

      Reply to this
  • 12/8/2009 8:42 PM Michael McKinney wrote:
    Thanks Wally. As you make clear, leadership is a considered choice, but one that we all should make. We can all inspire people to act for the good of the whole without any external incentive or benefit to be gained.

    Reply to this
    1. 12/9/2009 9:02 AM Wally Bock wrote:

      Exactly, Michael. Leadership should be a considered choice. In many companies, though, it's the only "career path" available. That gives people an incentive to choose it, even when it's a bad choice.

      Reply to this
      1. 12/9/2009 9:38 AM Aaron Windeler wrote:
        I've seen a number of people who put time into a leadership/supervisory position, and after a couple of years realized that it wasn't for them, or they were just plain burned out. I think a lot of companies would do well to, at least, let people know that if they find leadership is not right for them, that they can always find another place in the company
        Reply to this
        1. 12/9/2009 10:48 AM Wally Bock wrote:

          I totally agree. Most people who aren't a good fit for management/supervision know it pretty quickly, but most companies don't have any other options for promotion or a way to let them "go back" without stigma.

          Reply to this
  • 12/8/2009 9:25 PM Susan Mazza wrote:
    These would also be great questions to ask when you are considering promoting someone to a position that requires leadership.
    Reply to this
    1. 12/9/2009 9:06 AM Wally Bock wrote:

      You're right on target, Susan. In fact, those are questions that I suggest companies answer by looking at behavior when they're considering moving someone from a position as individual competitor to a leadership role. It's best if there have been some "trials" so that both the person and the company can make a wise choice.

      Reply to this
  • 12/8/2009 9:38 PM John Hunter wrote:
    Good list. Another necessary trait is to be willing to work with others. Some see leaders and think "it would be great to be them so I don't have to listen to all the people I have to now." In my experience the more authority a leader has the more they need to work with others.

    They rely on persuasion more than authority of position. The authority of position exists and is nice to have when needed. But if a leader uses it often they will find people will find ways to avoid working with them and without others they have little to lead.
    Reply to this
    1. 12/9/2009 9:27 AM Wally Bock wrote:

      Thanks for adding those thoughts, John. I think of formal authority as a bit like fines for smoking in public places. If someone chooses to smoke and is willing to pay the fine, you really have no power over them on that issue.


      I worked with a police department where the policy was that you don't leave your patrol area for lunch. They had an officer who worked an area near where he lived. Every day he went home for lunch. They hit him with all the discipline they could. He thought going home for lunch was more important.


      Finally, they had a conference to decide what to do. The officer was experienced and productive. As often happens, an old, wise sergeant came up with the solution. They transferred the officer to a patrol area across town. Home was no longer nearby. He quit going home for lunch.

      Reply to this
  • 12/9/2009 11:14 AM Susan Robinson wrote:
    Helping. Decision-making. Teamwork. I definitely agree. But confrontation skills? I think it's more important for a leader to be able to teach and inspire great performance than to be able to "confront other people on behavior and performance."
    Reply to this
    1. 12/9/2009 12:03 PM Wally Bock wrote:

      I agree that teaching is an important skill for a leader. But it's also important to learn how to confront those whose behavior or performance are a problem. In my programs, that was the top thing that newly promoted supervisors wanted to learn. The only thing that comes close is "managing my boss."


      You have to be willing and able to say something like, "John, your last report was not acceptable and if your performance on report writing doesn’t' improve, there will be consequences."


      Without that skill and behavior, the underperformers and those whose behavior defies regulation tend to run the show and poison the group. Without that skill people get fired without having a reasonable opportunity to reform.


      The bottom line is that controlled confrontation is part of a boss's job. You're going to have to do it. You should be willing to do it. And you should learn how to do it effectively.

      Reply to this
  • 12/9/2009 12:15 PM Susan Robinson wrote:
    Confrontation implies an adversarial relationship - that's not what improves performance. Even when you have to tell someone their performance has to improve, you need to follow that with support and education to help them learn the necessary skills and behaviors. You begin with the premise that they want to do their job well and are willing to improve but need to learn how to improve. Even when you need to sever the employment relationship with someone who is unwilling to improve, confrontation - no matter how controlled - is not the best or safest approach.
    Reply to this
    1. 12/9/2009 12:30 PM Wally Bock wrote:

      First of all, I disagree with the idea that confrontation = adversarial. It often isn't, whether with my children or the people who work for me. That equation can easily be valid, though, for supervisors who either duck confrontation because it's uncomfortable and wind up with a blowup or with supervisors who don't work at the behaviors we know can make confrontation effective.


      Second, the situation you describe is surely accurate for most of the supervisory situations a boss will face. But it's not universally accurate. Everyone who's been a boss for a while has had to deal with team members who have proven by their behavior and performance that they are unwilling to perform and act in ways to help the team succeed. And every boss has had willng team members who were deluded about the quality of their performance or the impact of their behavior on others. Confrontation is a way to bring those folks up short so they recognize the situation and take action to remedy it.


      As a final thought, I think it's far more dangerous to allow a situation to drift when controlled confrontation could bring matters into the open. People need to know how they match up to standards and expectations. Confrontation is one of the tools in a good supervisor's toolbox to make sure that happens.


      Reply to this
  • 12/9/2009 12:43 PM Michael Leiter wrote:
    Great piece, making good points without wasting a lot of words.
    I agree that confrontation skills are important with skills being the operative term. Employees hold leaders responsible for things that go wrong--incivility among colleagues or social loafing--so it's very important for leaders to address these situations effectively. They are very public issues for employees.

    Also, it's vital that leaders really like other people. Misanthropes make poor leaders. It's the people who enjoy the efforts and diverse contributions of employees that connect so effectively with others.

    All the best,
    Reply to this
    1. 12/9/2009 1:15 PM Wally Bock wrote:

      Thanks for adding to the discussion, Michael. As usual you've helped sharpen my own thoughts.


      I love the "emphasis on skills" comment. Willingness without skills in this area is a recipe for problems. I've taught those skills in my programs and my Working Supervisor's Support Kit and I know they work. But I've also learned that if a person isn't willing to do confrontation at all, the skills training is of no value.

      Reply to this
  • 12/9/2009 2:47 PM Rodney Johnson wrote:
    A quick follow on question for you. At what point does an individual really know what they're good at?

    I've seen too many occassions where individuals will say "Yes" to these questions and fail. Others might say "I don't know" to these questions and succeed.

    Its kind of like a man that was named teacher of the year recently. He was humbled and totally surprised by the honor. What he did everyday and considered normal was considered extraordinary by his peers and students.
    Reply to this
    1. 12/9/2009 3:30 PM Wally Bock wrote:

      First, the people who will say "yes" to the questions and then fail. I think they fall into two groups. One group can do these things but doesn't have other things that are necessary for a particular situation. The other lacks self-awareness. Their situation makes a good case for the idea of "trial leadership" situations and 360 appraisals as part of the leadership development process.


      As for the top performers like your Teacher of the Year. I think what you describe is more of the rule than the exception. Most of the top performers I've known or been privileged to coach, concentrate on their work and results and self-improvement. They don't spend much time worrying about whether they're "great" or not.


      I'll offer my friend, Tom, as an example. He's a truly great teacher. He wants to be a great teacher. But what a "great teacher" is for him is always over the horizon. So he thinks about what books to teach his high school students and where they should go on their senior trip. He keeps notes on class exercises that he reviews every summer to help him decide what to keep and what to pitch. He reads up on generational issues. What he works for is to do things better.

      Reply to this
  • 12/9/2009 9:07 PM John Hunter wrote:
    Nice, I thought you were going to say the sergeant transfered him to the area that included his house.
    Reply to this
    1. 12/9/2009 9:13 PM Wally Bock wrote:

      That's what command officers wanted to do, John. The sergeant called that "throwing up our hands." His point was that you shouldn't give people what they want simply because it's easier that way.

      Reply to this
  • 12/11/2009 5:50 AM Jack Reynolds wrote:
    Hi Wally, great post as usual. It's interesting to consider what it is about a person that makes them not just able to lead, but able to enjoy leading. I'd love to see more blog posts on this in future.
    Good work Wally!

    Jack Reynolds
    Reply to this
    1. 12/11/2009 9:01 AM Wally Bock wrote:

      That question's definitely worth a longer post, Jack, but let me give you a quick answer. There's no science in this at all, just pieces of experience.


      I think the leaders who enjoy leading are all good at it. It's hard to enjoy anything that you're not good at.


      Leaders who enjoy leading enjoy being a generator that powers achievement.


      Leaders who enjoy leading enjoy helping others.


      Leaders who enjoy leading enjoy the challenge that is new every day.

      Reply to this
  • 12/12/2009 10:25 PM Lui Sieh wrote:
    Great list Wally. I'd like to add a couple of other important questions that one should ask after these three were answered affirmatively.
    1. Do you care?

    This asks whether or not you understand that the more difficult the leadership level you get to, the motivations for leadership are often not monetary related. I would say they become much more personal and perhaps "emotional". Leadership is really hard work so you need to really care and have passion to succeed day-in-and-day-out.

    2. How much courage do you have?

    Leadership will often put people into difficult decision points - large and small. Having the courage to stand up and face "the music" so-to-speak is a true test of leadership. People forget that part of leadership. And taking days off isn't part of the job description either.

    Reply to this
    1. 12/15/2009 8:43 AM Wally Bock wrote:

      Those are great additions, thanks. I think the courage question might be important to ask, but almost impossible to answer. I'd suggest another way to get at it, but I don't have one. Perhaps a reader will help.

      Reply to this
  • 12/14/2009 8:49 PM Chris Young wrote:
    Great questions Wally! The 4th question on your list is one I see new leaders struggle with the most and one that robs an organization of countless opportunities and profits.

    I've shared your post with my readers in my weekly Rainmaker 'Fab Five' blog picks of the week (found here: http://www.maximizepossibility.com/employee_retention/2009/12/the-rainmaker-fab-five-blog-picks-of-the-week-1.html) to help them think more carefully of who they are promoting or hiring to leadership positions.

    Be well!

    - Chris YOung
    Reply to this
    1. 12/15/2009 8:49 AM Wally Bock wrote:
      Thanks, Chris. It's always an honor to make your list.
      Reply to this
  • 2/8/2010 1:11 PM Pine Drawers wrote:
    Very nice article about leadership. Sometimes it's hard to be a leader, and it's not for everybody. Sometimes ppl love to be leaded. It's easier for them ...
    Reply to this
  • 4/14/2010 1:52 PM Pine Dressing Table wrote:
    Leadership is one side of the coin called value standards, the other side being followership.Leaders can choose to lead in a good direction or a bad one. Actually, a full spectrum exists from exceptionally bad to exceptionally good. The standards are always the leader's choice although many will not realize that they have a choice or even how to make a choice.
    Reply to this
    1. 4/14/2010 3:19 PM Wally Bock wrote:

      You're definitely right, there are a broad range of options and, right again, many don't seem to understand that they have them or how to make use of them. Thanks for coming by.

      Reply to this
      1. 4/21/2010 8:42 AM Pine Dressing Table wrote:
        Yes we just have need to understand the basic these misunderstanding leads to major problems caused by leadership.my pleasure!
        Reply to this
  • 10/20/2010 1:13 PM Dale wrote:
    Great succinct post! I was surprised with the initial questions extracted from the Wall Street Journal article, and they reminded me more of someone who was striving for a top CEO position. However, they can be self-serving and lack detail toward successful outcomes in my opinion. However, the questions you listed I related to actually going through these as I grew as a leader and supervisor in the past.

    I was initially the reluctant leader when I was in my youth -- meaning I was not sure if this is what I wanted to be. When I was put into the roles of a leadership position, it was your first question ("Do you like helping others succeed?")that initially clarified within me that leading and teaching was what I wanted to do. The next two questions I also had observed and come to terms with and saw many an individual in leadership positions fall because they could not come to terms with these.

    Finally, in realizing the no getting around the last question, I learned and grew to develop the most advantageous, just, and beneficial way to apply discussing behavior and performance with individuals. I would agree that if you can not openly and honestly lay out guidelines and expectations and you fear or avoid pointing strengths and weaknesses out, then you probably will not succeed as a leader.


    Reply to this
    1. 10/20/2010 1:22 PM Wally Bock wrote:

      Thank you for that thoughtful comment, Dale.

      Reply to this
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