Questions to ask yourself before leading
Should you pursue a leadership track in your career? Climbing the ladder and managing different levels of leaders is seen as the natural progression of careers and life, plus a potential route to higher compensation. It might seem obvious, but too many people take the plunge toward leadership without thoughtful consideration. Consider the following questions as you decide whether a leadership role is for you:
What is the growth stage of the organization? Entrepreneurial start-ups will have distinct needs from the mature corporation. Are you comfortable in the environment that you have a leadership opportunity in?
What kind of changes will the role require you to manage? Is there a big change coming to the organization or that it potentially will be affected by, such as new technology or a merger?
How many people will you be leading, and at what level in the organization? You cannot simply jump from an individual contributor role to leading leaders of others, or from a leader of others role to an enterprise leader above several layers of people. The time management skills and work values are distinct at each level of leadership.
What is your work style? Your work style will help determine the types of organizations and roles that you’re best suited for. Are you motivated by a fast-paced, constantly changing environment? Perhaps you’d like to work for a start-up. If you love rules and regulations, leadership in a larger organization with lots of set processes to enforce may suit your better.
Do you feel like you can do certain jobs better than anyone else? Maybe you are awesome at your role. As a leader, you’d have to share your best practices and secrets to a job well done with a team. Are you comfortable doing that and letting others do the work?
Who might feel threatened by your growth? Are you playing office politics? Consider how your current peers might feel if you’re promoted. Perhaps they’ll believe it’s a well-deserved promotion and they’ll cheer you on. However, consider that not everyone will be supportive of a potential leadership change, especially if you’ve ever backstabbed a co-worker or stolen credit for work. This could complicate your leadership ambitions.
Are you prepared to make difficult decisions, such as terminating employees and cutting budgets? If that makes your stomach cringe, you may not be ready to handle the tough conversations of leadership.
Are you ready to receive negative feedback for work that you indirectly did? You’d better be, and you need to take responsibility for it too. As a leader, if your reports mess up, you are to blame.
Not only that, but are you prepared for the direct scrutiny that you will receive as a leader? And not necessarily just from your reports. With social media, leaders are faced with more criticism and publicity than ever before, and not all of it is very polite.
Do you understand the responsibility that leaders have over the total well-being of employees? According to Tom Rath, author of StrengthsFinder and Well-Being: The Five Essential Elements, a bad boss may increase the risk of stroke by 33%. It may take people longer to recover from a job loss than the death of a spouse. A full-time worker spends a significant portion of his time in the workplace, so the conditions and relationships cannot help but have a huge effect on his life. Leading others in the workplace is a significant responsibility, affecting people at basic levels such as their health and happiness.
Would you enjoy leading? Once you know all the considerations and you think you might be able to handle them, do you think leadership would be enjoyable? Would you like to enrich others’ lives and inspire others to great work? Find out your true motivations behind wanting a leadership role. While it’s okay to desire a prestigious title and more compensation, you should genuinely care about the more altruistic reasons behind leading, as well as the benefit you can potentially bring to your organization as a leader.
Many of these questions ought to be discussed candidly with a trusted coach or mentor, in order to receive objective feedback. You might rather continue on your individual contributor career path for the time being, and that may be for the best. In the end, it’s not just about whether you’re equipped to lead; you have to want to lead, for the right reasons.