“I don’t want to be a leader”

Good. There are probably too many people who want to be in charge, tell people what to do, control events, and bend circumstances to their way of thinking. But that’s not leadership. That’s authority. That’s the exercise of power. It has a bad reputation and it’s well-deserved.

Maybe you haven’t always been a leader, but you’ve met people who were. Did you do your part, play your role eagerly? Did you notice that being the person that everyone looked to sometimes got in the way of good judgment? Or maybe you saw that acclaim for those in charge also bent them to do questionable things as that tried to manage their reputation.

Still, after developing our own expertise, we come to recognize that we want to make a difference. We want to be recognized for it, too. Especially early on, we need the encouragement and feedback, which is sometimes critical. That impulse to matter and be recognized for it is a growing plant fed on good intentions, hopefulness, willingness to learn, and some ego, both healthy and otherwise.

You don’t need lead a big corporation. Just stick with the impulse to make a contribution. Keep working to do that today. You don’t have to do anything else. But as a thought experiment, extend that same impulse to your team or your church or club. What might making a contribution full of good intentions look like? Move beyond that to the next circle. Maybe people who see what you’ve accomplished invite to give similar help in another sphere. What could you contribute? Or maybe your commitment to a good goal keeps leading you into organizations where you can make your contribution. No thanks

You may find yourself leading. You don’t have to. But you might. Don’t throw the idea aside because you haven’t seen good examples of it up close. No matter what the scope or scale, you could be the person notice by another discouraged expert, inspiring them to do what you do. That might lead him to change his mind. It might inspire her to resolve to make her own contribution.

On the one hand, leading is nothing special. On the other, in the complex, dynamic world of work of this decade, it’s not natural. But you don’t need to be every kind of great leader at once. You simply need to follow the impulse to make a contribution. You’ll need to answer new challenges. You’ll learn a lot about your ego. But the cumulative effect is that you become one of the people whose impact is as nearly as good as their intentions.

I don’t feel strongly about what you call it. But for all our sakes, do it.

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