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Leader Or Not To Lead… Ability Or Motivation?

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What triggers someone’s desire to be a leader? Is it the lure of authority, more money, or being involved in decisions that drive the organization? Is it the thought of becoming that admired leader? Or it is a way to get out of the trenches. No matter what the decision, it comes down to motivation. 

We have enough leaders who suffer from the Dunning-Kruger Effect, these people overestimate their abilities at all levels. We don’t need more of these types of leaders, we need individuals who are willing to be realistic about their abilities, know who they are so they can practice being their authentic selves, and support other leaders and staff members to do the same. 

Are leaders born or made?

Run a Google search on the topic of leaders born or made and you get over 400,000,000 results. Here are a few of them:

Ability or motivation?

The question of the desire to lead comes down to the individual. History provides us with many examples of people doing great acts and bad things both as leaders and non-leaders. When I work with leaders and ask the question are leaders born or made, the vast majority agree with Dr. Riggio. 

Leader ability

If you are going to ask someone to be a leader, or you’re asking yourself, you need to ask this question, “Do they or, do I have the ability to be a leader?” I have seen many individuals wanting to lead people and teams but they don’t have the ability, skillset, experience, or knowledge to do it, but they have heart. Because they are passionate or emphatic about being a leader they get moved into that position. Sooner than later they start to become frustrated, angry, and discouraged and have the tendency to turn to the default style of command and control leadership which often leads to micromanaging. 

When I run into people who have been moved into a leadership role, they always tell me they got a promotion. I tell them, no they didn’t, they got a career change. If you are a leader for the first time, you have gone from a doer to a leader of doers, and if you are moving up the leader ladder the skillset, responsibilities, and accountability change as well. If you are not prepared for the position of leader and the road gets rough you will resort to making everyone do their job the way you did it because that’s what you know and this is where the challenges start adding up. 

Leader motivation

Motivational factors that drive the desire to be a leader can be vastly different from person to person. External motivational factors like titles, offices, more money, power, perceived respect, and I say perceived because some people assume respect comes with the title, these I call glamor leader reasons. 

There are internal motivational factors like wanting to be the best leader for my team, I can do a better job of leading because my last boss sucked at it, or I care for others and I want to be an empathic or supportive leader. Sooner than later you discover that people are mistaking your kindness for weakness and will take advantage of it. 

Leader ability and motivation

So where does this leave us? Two words, self-assessment. If you are a leader and questioning is this right for me, or if you want to be a leader you really need to assess your motivation and abilities. 

David Corbett in his book Portfolio Life discusses the idea that your life is centered on what you care the most about, this could also apply to leadership. Corbett suggests you ask yourself this question, “Name something you do well.” This is a great way to start looking at why you want to be a leader or how to improve your leadership approach. 

I asked  the CEO of a mid-sized healthcare organization the question, “Name something you do well.” He paused for a few seconds then said, “My ability to connect with people.” Then he aligned that ability with how it applies to his leadership style.

The authors of the book Influencer: The New Science of Leading Change, state that before you can motivate or influence someone to do something new or different, make sure they have the ability to do it or the ability to learn how to do it, this includes you. 

Exercise | Deliberate practice3 things you can do

You need to do an honest assessment of your ability and motivation. 

  1. Assess your motivation, is it internal or external? Ask yourself where the desire to lead is coming from. 
  2. Use the table below to assess yourself by identifying what you do well in each of the four common leadership areas and record your answers in your journal, you can list more than one answer. Take your time with this. Observe yourself in meetings, one-on-ones, discussions with other leaders, your peers, and every part of your daily engagement with people. As you think of your behaviors, think of them as an action that is specific, observable, and repeatable. This will help you to identify behaviors that you can measure and determine if you are getting better at them. 
  3. Ask what others observe in you. This is hard to do but crucial. You might be thinking is this like a 360-degree review, yes kind of. Having other people tell you what they observe in your actions or behaviors can help you see what you are not seeing.

Examples of behaviors to look for:

  • Communication –  I listen to understand, I ask good questions, and my instructions or expectations are always clear. Then ask yourself if these behaviors are specific, observable, and repeatable.
What is your motivation to be a leader?

In the following four areas ask yourself what you do well.
Communication (Are you just hearing or are you listening?)

Influencing (influencing without manipulation)

Relationships (Are you encouraging growth and success in others?)

Humanitarian (How you treat your staff, team members, and others you work with)

After you take some time and think about your answers ask yourself if your behaviors support your desire to be a leader. If some of them don’t, this is a place to start working on developing or enhancing those behaviors.

Ask someone else what they think

Here’s the hard part, ask the people you work with to give you their observations of what you do well and if you dare, what could you improve in any or all of the four areas. 

What they see may be different from what you see, I call these shadows which are behaviors that are unknown to us or hard for us to see in ourselves but others see them. Tell your observers you are engaged in the pursuit of personal development and that their observations are important to you. Then you need to take the feedback with gratitude and use it otherwise no one will ever be honest with you is that how you want to be seen as a leader? 

To be an effective leader you need to model the way, walk your talk, and act how you want others to act. So, ask yourself, “How do people see me?” Compare your observations with the observations of others you asked. Look for the similarities and differences of perspective or shadows. This will give you a good idea of what you do well and what behaviors could use some development.

Keep a journal, and write down what you want to start doing and what you want to stop doing. Observe yourself every day, the more you deliberately practice the behaviors you want, the more ingrained they become in your daily leadership work.  

You might be saying, these are really basic behaviors and everyone should know them. You’re right and the truth of the matter is, these basic behaviors are the ones we quickly forget about or they go right out the door the moment we’re challenged. That’s why we do deliberate practice so these basic behaviors become the foundation for more effective leadership. 

Don’t wait for tomorrow, tomorrow never comes. What you have is today and this is the best time to begin anything.

Steven Covey said, “Are leaders born or made? This is a false dichotomy-leaders are neither born nor made. Leaders choose to be leaders.”

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The Rational Leader – Exercise | Deliberate practice

From the Post: The Rational Leader: Cultivating Self-Awareness, Critical Examination, and Determination Start with one of the five areas listed below to practice self-awareness, self-examination,

The 5 Content Pillars:
The Exercises: