An important foundation of leadership is for leaders to settle on their own story. Are they themselves ready for the challenges of leadership? Are they ready to commit to the worthwhile goal?
If leaders have not achieved sufficient commitment, the goal will seem small and even boring, as though spending energy and effort in accomplishing it will make little difference in the overall scheme of things. They will only find themselves avoiding issues and saying things they don’t really mean.
Once a commitment is made, the goal will seem larger and more exciting. Leaders will find themselves saying what they really mean and sometimes saying things they didn’t know they knew. The focus of the discussion is around why the goal must be achieved, because its vital for the future.
Once the commitment is made, leaders need to fix on it like a laser bean. They need to see it intensely, even obsessively. They feel it. They hear it. They taste it. They smell it. It becomes part of them, their very identity, because it is something that they are committed to make happen, come what may, whatever it takes.
The Risks of becoming a Leader
Deciding to be a leader is a choice we have to make. Leadership isn’t something we can be appointed to by other people, like being named manager. Its an inner decision to pursue an activity for its own sake and to set out to convince others to do likewise.
Becoming a leader can be dangerous. It can put you on a collision with powers that are in place. But it can also be disruptive for the life of a leader. You may have to take on new responsibilities and stop doing things you know and like doing and start doing unfamiliar things. You may have to venture into the unknown, making mistakes and learning from them. You may have to push ahead, knowing that previous change efforts were unsuccessful, without any certainty of success.
Becoming a leader may also lead to changes in relationships with others, particularly those not initially supporting the change. You may end up hurting the feelings of colleagues who disagree with you. You may find yourself having to confront the fact that change sometimes gets sabotaged. You may consider at least temporarily giving up any friends or colleagues responsible for the sabotage.
Even more painfully, leaders may get no personal recognition for generating the change, or they may even be punished for the success. Great change agents have strong opposition. Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., and John F. Kennedy were even assassinated – and even if that is not a realistic risk, the chance that leaders will not get credit for sponsoring a successful change is significant. Leaders may have to sacrifice their ego, ambition, and pride to make the change happen.
If the change fails, the risks may be even higher. There is a risk of losing managerial privileges. Committing to being a leader will sometimes be in tension with having a career.
Leadership isn’t for the faint of heart. Potential leaders have to make a conscious decision, fully aware of the implications of the decision they are making. Some might decide that they don’t want to risk their career, their family, their friends, or their financial well-being at this particular time for this particular issue.
On the other side, when leaders make a commitment to some goal that is worthwhile in itself, they can say what they really believe. They can be comfortable in their own skin, living a life that is truly their own. They become their own persons, making mind, body, actions, and values consistent.
In any case, making the decision to be a leader isn’t a decision to be taken lightly. Most of the great heroes of history have hesitated when faced with the issue of whether to proceed with leadership or not. Hamlet for example, spent forever agonizing over whether to act or not.