Learning to Lead: It’s Not For Everyone

Forefront Editorial Team Foresight, Leadership Leave a Comment

Is leadership right for you? Qlik’s Chief People Officer, Diane Adams, explains the realities and difficulties of effective leadership.

Thirty-four percent of people in the workforce aspire to leadership. That doesn’t surprise me, as people increasingly are realizing that leadership isn’t for everyone.

In the past, notions of corporate leadership conjured up images of being important, traveling, being entitled to perks and having a fast-track career. But more of today’s knowledge workers are coming to the conclusion that the secret to a great career is doing what you love, being passionate about your work and, of course, being great at it.

While leadership is a noble aspiration, the hard reality is that not all of us are born leaders. We may never become great leaders, even with the right coaching, training and mentoring.

Popular business books, like “Now Discover Your Strengths” by Marcus Buckingham and Donald O. Clifton, highlight this fact. Corporations hum when we embrace the diversity of the workforce and are inclusive of people with different strengths—be they a particular functional discipline (e.g., strong accounting or technical skills) or cultural (e.g., consensus building, action orientation, hardworking).

Let’s be clear. In discussing leadership aspirations, the most important question is, “What do you really want?” It may not be leadership at all. It may be influence, the ability to make a difference or more autonomy in decision-making; the perception might be, “If I am a leader, I can achieve all of these things.” The great irony is that you can achieve all of these things by being a team player and individual contributor. And in many cases, being just that gives you more time and flexibility.

 The Realities of Leadership

Leadership is hard. Furthermore, the title doesn’t make the leader, which is an important distinction that many aspiring to such fail to grasp. You have to live leadership, and that means wearing the hats of motivator, coach and mentor, listener and values champion, team builder, strategic czar, judge and jury, influencer, and, importantly, the person who has ultimate accountability for the success of the team.

Indeed, leaders should spend anywhere between 35 to 50 percent of their time developing their teams. That means spending time with them, ensuring they are clear on accountabilities and—this is key—developing them. That might sound easy, but while you balance incoming priorities, demands from the hierarchy and pressure to perform, it can feel like your real role is “Multitasker-in-Chief.”

Ignore any part of the leadership equation, and team members will let you know about it. You see it come up in survey after survey: “My manager doesn’t understand what I do and the contributions I am making.” “She doesn’t care about my career.” “She is only interested in self-promotion.”

The effective leader has the good of the corporation and its people at heart. Great leaders are selfless, secure and always focused on continually improving, both personally and as a group. Above all, they love developing people.

Just ask former Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Jack Welch. He will tell you that his passion was never in the numbers, being more effective in output or running the business. His passion was in developing the best people. He freely admits that is where he tried to spend most of this time as CEO. And with a positive results, right? Under his watch, GE leadership practices became one of the highest benchmarks for which global companies aspire.

Though leadership can be tremendously rewarding, so can the role of the individual contributor. I work with a number of later-career, world-class leaders who bear impressive resumes and have logged industry “firsts” in health care, telecommunications and various high-tech disciplines. Having achieved notable personal and team success, many are now migrating to individual contributor roles—career spots where they have more time to devote to creativity, innovation and helping new-in-career professionals. These roles also allow more flexibility to manage work/life issues, and they may not require the same sacrifices as their leadership counterparts.

So when we talk about leadership, the career “life cycle” is an important consideration. This takes me back to where the beginning of our discussion: “What is the motivation for wanting to be a leader?” I would add, “Do I understand what it takes?” Knowing the answers to these questions will help you decide if leadership is right for you.

 You are a Leader: Now What?

What does it take to be seen as a great leader, and how does that translate to day-to-day actions? There are a number of ways to achieve success. Here I share five of the best ways to move your team forward.

  • Establish trust and credibility. This must be done across your own team and cross-functionally with all of your peers and stakeholders. Be seen as the expert for your function, as well as the chief listener and collaborator. A “how can I help you with your problem?” mindset goes a long way.
  • Lead through values. Make it clear that you lead through the company values and that your expectation of the team is the same. Then, model the values. Live them and hold others accountable to them. Be authentic. And don’t be afraid to admit when you’ve made a mistake or could have done something better. These admissions make you real and build trust.
  • Be clear on expectations. We are rewarded to achieve certain results. Be clear on what they are, offer your assistance and help your team (and individuals) achieve them. Hold people accountable.
  • Celebrate and exaggerate success. This builds winning cultures.
  • Listen, and develop your people. If you invest in developing your people, you take a big step in developing a high-performing team. Be genuine and caring. Also be willing to take action if your people investments are not paying off. The bottom line is that not everyone is cut out to lead and not everyone may be a good fit for your organization.


wOzvYWLbg_pA-mcd0JcxlA5ogSu0NeuzXD1Lu7jOBlsDiane Adams is Chief People Officer at Qlik. She will be featured in an upcoming issue of Forefront magazine.

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