The Sacrifices of the Leader

by Bluepoint Leadership Development |
Forget the notion that you will be idolized, universally admired and richly rewarded. When you choose to become a leader, you are choosing a road plagued with failure, disappointment, confusion and resentment. Your best decisions will be mocked, your friends will abandon you and loneliness will become your constant companion. Others will take credit for your work and you will be blamed for their failures. Interested? I hope so because you have never been needed more. Today’s organizations are rife with distrust of authority and fractured by pervasive self-interest. Loyalty beyond oneself and one’s work team is increasingly rare. It’s a very tough road. Still interested? Here is what you will be sacrificing.

Your Popularity
This is not American Idol and you are not in a popularity contest. When a highly-trained commander of a nuclearpowered aircraft carrier thinks his job is to star in raunchy videos to become one of the boys, he has definitely lost his way as a leader. While the men and women in his command may have thought these self-effacing, loutish videos amusing, I promise you they did nothing to enhance the leadership stature of this highly-trained U.S. Navy captain. He mistakenly thought his job was to be liked. It was not. It was to set a standard of behavior based on dignity and selfrespect that others would strive to achieve. It is not your job to make others feel good about you. It’s your job to help them feel good about themselves.

Peace and Tranquility
When asked to identify historical leaders that we admire, Gandhi’s name often comes to mind. We immediately conjure up thoughts of a serene, saint-like leader attired in simple robes, cross-legged on a barren floor quietly sharing profound adages such as “…be the change.” Nothing could be further from the truth. Gandhi was an impatient firebrand who lived at the center of chaos, uncertainty and despair. His cause was constantly on the brink of failure and disaster loomed. His organization was disjointed, unruly and prone to deceit. And yet he persisted…and prevailed. Leadership is a messy business and rarely shows up as five neat practices or seven neat habits. It involves making a self-sacrificing commitment to others and a goal bigger than oneself. It involves trading comfort for tension and peace for turmoil. The true leader sees that the old story no longer works, recognizes that the new story has not yet been written, and has the courage to stand in that chaotic, dangerous place between the two.

Life Balance
Abandon the idea that you will ever achieve work-life balance. For leaders, it does not exist. You cannot organize, delegate or prioritize your work well enough to create balance in your life. You have been trying to do this all of your career and still feel like a failure. In fact, as a leader, you have chosen a life journey that will be constantly out of balance. The hard truth is that both on and off the job you will be consumed by thoughts of the adventures and challenges that await your organization; unrelenting competition, changing markets, internal strife, magnificent opportunities, rampant disengagement…the list goes on. Like it or not, when you walk out of the office, you take your organization’s ethos (think of ethos as the core spirit of the organization) with you. You are its keeper 24/7. Putting a lot of energy into denying this is futile and frustrating. If you can’t make this happen, resign your leadership post. Become a diamond-cutter, a salsa dancer, a dog trainer….something that you can readily disconnect from the rest of your life.

Btw…we also carry our familial relationships with us 24/7. It can be hard to get your head around this idea, but great leaders find ways to serve their families while at work and serve their organizations while at home. When we stop the futile effort of erecting artificial partitions between the two worlds, we are able to bring our whole selves to both and be a great leader in both. Life becomes a rich pageantry when leaders bring the very best parts of themselves to all dimensions of their lives, letting go of the view that these dimensions are inherently competitors.

So why do it? Why should you take on these sacrifices and step up to lead? Because you will touch people’s lives in ways you cannot even imagine. Most of us spend the majority of our adult lives inside organizations, and leaders show us how we can make this time meaningful. They show us how we can exceed our own expectations. In short, they help us live bigger lives. Is there any more important work? Is it not worth the sacrifice?