At times leadership can be a thankless task. Don’t get me wrong there are definitely times when you feel the love and it is incredibly rewarding, but more often than not the recognition of leadership success comes from within: the satisfaction you get when outcomes are achieved, processes work like clockwork and you have those rare moments when the majority of your little darlings have smiles on their dials and a bounce in their step.
I’m sure you have all heard the saying which goes something like this: When things go right, a leader will readily redirect the credit to others. But when things go not to plan, a true leader steps up and takes the responsibility. Sounds a bit more like a saint, than your average leader, but there it is.
Leaders often find themselves left off of thank you lists for outcomes achieved and in the line of fire when things don’t go according to plan. (Yes, go on then, call the waambulance). Many of these outcomes require considerable leadership investment: planning, time, energy, passion, skill and expertise: all go into to culture development, teaching, steering, guiding, coaching, influencing, bringing people together and digging in your heels for the greater cause when needed. I have no doubt that, without the contribution of leaders, the end result would be WAY different, if a result at all.
This is a common occurrence for senior leaders, executives and CEOs, who, in the stage show we call work, are more stage managers than the stars of the show – and so it should be. And it can be hard, as while we usually get paid well for what we do (as it does require your full commitment,mind, heart and soul), the truth is many of us do it for personal fulfillment – a sense of achievement and the zen moment that comes from balancing chaos and order.
Reconciling this I tell you with all sincerity that I am cool with this. In fact, I expect it. And this is why.
On the “Input-Output-Outcome” continuum, Leadership is the mother of all inputs. Unlike other inputs such as systems, assets, tools, etc – leadership is intangible. It’s like air – you can’t see it, but you know when it’s not there because you can’t breath, when it’s polluted you find yourself chocking and when it’s pure and fresh, it’s invigorating and makes you feel good. So the intangibility is what makes is so difficult to pin down.
The way you can tell leadership is working is via the quality of outputs, such as cultural indicators of satisfaction, engagement and performance (ie delivery of role to outcomes), increased sales, etc. Also, and more importantly so, via achievement of outcomes (project delivery, customer advocacy, etc), which are the trump card for reward and recognition – it really doesn’t matter what shit has gone down before hand, when you deliver on an outcome, the likelihood of public recognition is high.
If your motivating driver is ego-strokes then my advice is to get yourself a role delivering projects: praise is readily available for achievement of tangible milestones and outcomes.
But if your idea of fulfillment and success looks like respect, achievement, opportunity, celebration in seeing others grow and succeed and through leaving a legacy (ie leaving a role/team in a better way than you found it): then leadership might just be for you. And don’t feel too bad if your ego needs the occasional stroke – you just might have to do it for yourself or consult someone in your mutual admiration society. If you are blessed like me, then there are plenty of these around to share with.