It’s easy to look at the leader of a large company or even a significant project and be a bit envious. Sometimes when we are stuck in the demands of the day we can think to ourselves how good it must be to be in charge of the work and the culture rather than having to react to it. It’s certainly okay for an individual to do that and, in fact, a very healthy mental exercise to think through how you would handle the challenges if you were in charge. Like many things in life, however, each opportunity that comes to us brings with it a particular set of challenges. Being the leader of a large project group, area of work, or even a company is certainly not immune. It brings with it many rewards but with more responsibility also comes more pressures and unique challenges. Much of that is expected but there are also realities that one likely doesn’t fully understand until they are in such positions. These challenges are certainly navigable and successful leaders handle them every day but these also aren’t the type of things that tend to show up in leadership books. Let’s take a look at three of them.
You will still have a boss.
There are many people who want to get to the top just so they don’t have to answer to anyone anymore. That’s a false assumption as everyone still has people to whom they are accountable. Upper management is still under senior management. Senior management is under a president or a CEO. A president or CEO is accountable to a board and often stockholders as well. Even the leader of a small business is accountable to his or her customers. Singer Paul Simon once noted how hard it was as a successful singer to go into the studio and be accountable to producers and record companies. Of course, a Christ-follower is accountable to God for how they run their business and treat people. Virtually everyone has some type of accountability and the very few who don’t usually end up as case studies on how a successful business goes wrong. Accountability to a group of wise people is always a good thing and should never be avoided.
You will make unpopular decisions.
No matter how likeable or smart you believe yourself to be you will make decisions that will greatly upset some people. Not just the people you don’t like but people whose opinions you care about. Sometimes the decisions are because of something you see that others don’t yet. Sometimes the decisions are driven by circumstances that are out of your hands. Sometimes, though it may be unappreciated, it’s because it is the right thing to do. It’s not like elections for high school class president because leadership is not a simply a popularity contest. You are there to make the hard decisions even when you know some won’t like or understand it. A leader who bends from mission-driven decisions toward ones that are simply popular will eventually fail that business.
You will, at times, feel lonely.
Finding yourself in charge of things brings with it an extra layer of required emotional intelligence. There will be many who want to build a relationship with you simply to further their own agenda. Very, very few people will be candid with you with in regard to giving you good, critical feedback. Others will distance themselves when you have to make the aforementioned unpopular decision. There will also be many things you simply cannot talk to others about for a variety of reasons. You have to be prepared for the fact there will be times when you are prevented by either good sense or even the law from talking about certain things. The times will come when you have to make a decision and then not be able to give all the reasons behind it. This is where accountability comes into play. A trusted friend or advisor from the outside is incredibly important not only to give you honest feedback and encouragement in times of tough decisions.
Leadership has many rewards in that one has the chance to take their visions for the work and the culture and bring them to reality. It’s an exciting and fulfilling responsibility for those wishing to pursue it. The good days ideally far outweigh the harder ones. As a wise friend once told me “The great thing about being the leader is you get most of what you want. The hard thing is you have to live with getting the things you want.” Entering into more responsibility should be done with great excitement and understanding of the challenges opportunities bring.