Why would anyone want to be a leader?
Updated: Aug 15, 2021
You will often hear people talk about wanting to be a leader throughout life. It has come up with such frequency that I often must wonder, why? With all the responsibilities and stress that a leader has, I'm always curious about why people want the job in my pursuit to find out why I've run into some fascinating answers.
I remember one of my friends, and we will call him Josh. He was always bragging about being "alpha" (In his world, alpha was the term for leader). He would talk endlessly about it to the point you would literally roll your eyes when you heard him talk about how Alpha he was. I never had the heart to tell him that true "alphas" don't talk about how much of an alpha they are. In fact, they often never say the term except in teaching others how to be like themselves. Well, one day, I approached him and just asked, "Josh, why do you want to be an alpha?". Almost as if on cue, Josh responded, "to get girls, man." With this simple statement, I realized Josh had no clue about what it actually means to be an alpha or a leader. He was simply chasing the rewards that came with leadership. Sadly Josh isn't alone in his answer, and I realized that most people don't know what it actually means to be a leader.
Now I couldn't fault Josh for chasing after the delicious privileges of being a leader. This notion that you get to have the first pick of mates, the respect you garner from your peers, the power you gain over others, the money, the wealth, the status! How it all shines like a beautiful diamond in the sunlight. Hell, when I talk about it, I want nothing more than to be a leader, but this is just the glamorous side of leadership. These are nothing more than the rewards you receive for doing the one thing you need to do.... and that is to take care of the people that follow you.
Hold up, you mean there is more to being a leader than just reaping the rewards and calling yourself a leader? Yes, yes, there is. A leader is someone who "commands a group, organization, or country," as per the oxford dictionary. This means that if you want to call yourself a leader, you not only must find people to lead, but they must follow you. If no one follows you, then I'm sorry to say it, but you're no leader; a lone wolf sure, but a leader you are not. Now I know what you're now thinking.... what would convince someone to follow me into the depths of hell and back? That is an easy question to answer; as a leader, you have to promise without compromise to take care of those that follow you, mind blown.
Look at all the greatest leaders throughout history, and you will see this to be true. From John F Kennedy promising the people of the United States of America a brighter future to Mahatma Gandhi showing a grand vision of India without British rule. Hell, even leaders we may consider evil or controversial said the same thing. Throughout time, leaders say the same thing "follow me, and I will promise to take care of you!". Interestingly we see this same message being played out everywhere in our daily lives, don't believe me? Just think about what a job interview is.
On the surface, a job interview is an assessment of potential employees to see if they are a good fit for the organization. If we dive a bit under the surface, we see it's actually a complicated dance where not only is the employer trying to assess the potential employee, but the employee is assessing to see if the employer is a worthwhile leader to follow. Whether the employee is aware of it or not, they are asking themselves, "are they promising to take care of me, and can they?". Why do you think people ask about benefits, promotional opportunities, Learning opportunities, vacation time, flexible work schedules, and staff turnover rates? It's all to assess if this potential leader can take care of them. Sadly few hiring managers understand this and, as such, fail to show that they are worthy of being followed! This can lead to a potential employee walks out of the interview thinking, "this is a dead-end job, and these people can't take care of me." Let's be real for a second it honestly doesn't matter how much money is on the table if your a bad leader your potential employee will throw their cards in with someone else.
I know what you're wondering "why are followers so interested in if I can take care of them or not?" well, the answer is because they are voluntarily giving power over themselves to you. By being a follower, they are giving you the power to reprimand them, to advise them, to tell them what to do, and in some cases, decide where and when to die, just to name a few. If that sounds scary or intimidating to you, well, it should; this is what being a true leader means. To help illustrate this, we should go back to our job interview. By simply accepting a job, an unwritten contract has been made by the leader (employer) and the follower (employee). The following are just a few powers that the employee intentionally gives to the employer:
I, the employee, agree that my employer will direct my skills to wherever the employer requires it
I, the employee, will work according to the hours that my employer has laid out for me
I accept that the employer can dictate to me when I can and can't go on vacation
I, the employee, understand that if my employer needs my services ASAP, I will attend to them without delay as long as it's within the agreed working times
I, the employee, accept that the employer can reprimand me for any transgressions.
I, the employee, promise to remain loyal to my company as long as they take care of me
Now all this power doesn't come free, but the employer must give something equal in return. A few of their unwritten terms are as follows:
I, the employer, promise to ensure that my business continues to thrive and will have a place for my employees now and into the future
I, the employer, promise to take care of my employees mental and physical health
I, the employer, promise not to exercise my power over my employees unless necessary
I, the employer, will put my employees well being above my own.
I, the employer, promise to be flexible with my employees and help fulfill any needs that may arise.
I promise to make the hard decisions necessary and take full responsibility when we fail.
As a leader, you not only gain power over your follower, but you are now subservient to their needs and must make sure their needs come first. Your followers will now expect you to do everything in your power to ensure their prosperity and success. Now I can hear a few of you readers scoffing at this notion of taking care of the people below you. Here's the rub if you are a leader who breaks your unwritten contract and neglects your responsibilities, well, sometimes nothing happens.... sometimes, heads will roll literally.
Have you ever wondered why you hated CEOs that lay off hundreds of workers while giving themselves a huge paycheque and a bonus? What about a tale of a politician using public money to fund their own lavish life? The answer to these questions is because of these leaders. These people who we have put our trust and faith in have intentionally put their own needs over that of their followers. They see the people that they lead as nothing more than tools to get to their destination. By doing this they break the one thing that a leader must do and that is to take care of their followers. Now punishment for leaders who fail to take care of their people can be mild as a tarnished public reputation (look no further than Julie Payette) to as severe as a public execution to a cheering crowd of thousands (see Louis XVI)
Now, as a leader, the rewards for succeeding can be vast but are not without cost. In return for all your rewards, you must ensure that you take care of your people no matter the cost. If you don't think you can do this, I would caution you when it comes to becoming a leader because the cost of failure could be severe. Now that you know a little bit more about what it actually means to be a leader do you still want the position?