and how that answer can be transformed into a loud “yes”
As a leadership coach, there are few things more frustrating than when a good person refuses to accept the mantle of leadership! Leadership is a great opportunity to have significant influence in the organization’s direction and have a positive impact on the people at work. So why do people say “no”? When asked, there are four common reasons given for their decision that will be highlighted below. At other times good people accept the leadership position because of financial or social benefits. However, they often hold the same bad reasons in their mind for not embracing the challenge. They whisper “no” to actually fulfilling the duties of a leader.
In reality, everyone has a leadership position in some area of life, whether it be in the family, workplace, or community. Even if someone doesn’t realize it, they will have influence over others, which is the basic definition of a leader. Whether an outright refusal or a whisper of “no”, lack of leadership will result in followers drifting apart, dissolving or becoming dysfunctional. We need more good people to say “yes” to leadership in all areas of life!
Here are four common “bad” reasons for refusing, but with a case for better reasoning, so that a good person is able to say “yes” to leadership:
1.“Someone else is better”
Good people refuse leadership because they believe someone else is better qualified for the job. In one organization, a leader had to adjust to being a leader over his father that was in the same group. In another case, the potential leader was young enough to be the son of some members and obviously had less experience. There was also a cultural factor: the expectation that the westerner should take the lead over himself or other nationalities. He said “no” to leading and only agreed to coordinate. That mindset to only coordinate rather than lead, is a formula for stagnation with no forward direction!
In each case, the group was happy to have the good person accept leadership. If they could just overcome the hurdle of self-doubt, their attitude of humility would be an asset. Rather than be intimidated by someone else, better reasoning would sound like: “With the support of my team, I will become better at leading them and we can keep moving ahead towards our goal”!
2. “I don’t know how”
If the leadership title is included in the job, many good people are refusing because they don’t know what to do to fulfill the job duties! They are an expert in their current job as a single contributor but get uncomfortable with the idea of taking leadership over others. What does that mean to their relationships with their friends and family if they become a leader? How can they assume such a responsibility when they don’t know what to do differently as a leader or how to effectively lead others?
One of the more satisfying parts of being a coach is to conduct a workshop on leadership and hear feedback such as “I didn’t see myself as a leader before today because of my personality. It is not my dominant style. Now, I know I have strengths in some areas that would be good for a leader to have.” This is a primary goal of Strong Advice: to encourage good people to consider being a leader.
First, they need to have a basic understanding of what a leader does and then start doing it.
There are hundreds of books on leadership and many more articles by consultants on the internet that will give advice on what being a leader is all about. One consultant says leaders have to be visionary above all else, while another will emphasize unity and team building. With each one promoting different aspects, it is confusing! What is a leader’s job anyway?
Good people who refuse leadership for the above reason, need to know there are very specific roles that every leader performs. It is like any craft. There are specific job duties in a leadership position with defined behaviors that can be learned and perfected over time. Some researchers call them best practices or competencies. Depending on the personality of the individual, some parts of the job are already naturally performed while others need to be identified, practiced and learned.
Better reasoning would be saying: “I don’t know how today, but I can learn from the wisdom of other leaders who I trust.”
3. “I am not a visionary”
Good people refuse to lead when they are not clear where the organization should be heading. There are many celebrated leaders known for being visionary. Political campaigns and their leaders point to hope for a better future. In the corporate world, we all are familiar with Steve Jobs at Apple with a vision for innovative products, Jack Welch at GE with his vision for leadership development. Good people often feel that if they don’t have a vision for their group, then they aren’t qualified to lead.
In reality, it is rare for a leader, like a Jobs or Welch, to dream up a vision of their own making and then mobilize people to achieve it. For most leaders, a vision is developed through the consensus of the people being led. Leaders often create compelling visions through a process that includes everyone’s input. One new CEO we worked with wanted to develop a new mission for the 100-year-old institution. He invited representatives from every function of the organization to participate in a full day of brainstorming. The result was that the CEO had a new vision for the institution and the support of a broad spectrum of people to facilitate success!
Vision setting is not just for the CEO. Even at lower levels of leadership, such a process of engaging members in defining the future is the critical role of every leader to gain unity within the group. Being a one-man visionary is a rare personality! A good person can succeed by developing a vision through a simple method anyone can learn. On that basis, it is better reasoning to say “I am not a visionary leader, but I can create a vision through the ideas of my team!”
4. “I am not good enough”
Good people often think that they are not “good enough” for leadership. Such reasoning is usually based on an unrealistic standard of perfection. Leaders are not perfect! They make mistakes. How they deal with success or failure in everyday decisions is the more important aspect of leadership. Refusal may also come from a person’s low self-esteem where they feel they are never good enough, as much as they try! Such an emotional decision, based on feelings is bad reasoning, rather than an objective evaluation of their fitness to be a leader.
Even with a bad reason, their conclusion might be correct! It is possible that, in this case, they may not be a good fit for a specific leadership role in a community or corporate organization. Certainly, someone with low-self-esteem would need to address those feelings before they can effectively lead. However, before refusing, the decision should be made from a more objective basis rather than emotional. Better reasoning would establish a “Standard of Leadership” and then objectively rate how well they meet that standard for that particular role.
The next article will explore the basic criteria to be “good enough” to begin the leadership challenge. Anyone who meets or exceeds that standard is ready to begin leading and learning with the support of coaches and mentors. Someone who falls short of that standard may remain as followers, team members, or experts in their field. One day, with more experience, discipline or development, the follower might qualify to become the next leader!
Questions for Comment: Please share your thoughts about the following:
- Have you ever said “no” to being a leader? What was your reason?
- How would you define the job of a leader?
- Think of the best leader you ever worked for. What was the most important trait or skill that set him apart as a good leader?
By Mike Strong Founder of Strong Advice