What would you do to be a leader?

What would you be willing to give up: your time, your health, your family, your principles or values?  What if you knew that you were stepping into a role which most people viewed with distrust, disillusionment, and cynicism.

Would it make you pause a little longer if you realized that you were going to be held to a higher standard of behaviour? And would the fact that should you be ineffective as a leader, you risk having 2/3 of your employees willing to take a pay cut rather than reporting into you?

Would any of these be worth the title, the prestige, the potential salary increase?

That’s a lot of questions. However, these are questions that many people don’t consider before taking on the responsibility of being a leader and then without even realizing it, they click on that “Agree” box without actually reading the terms and conditions of this implicit contract.

What if the fine print was moved front and centre – what if we introduced an actual Leadership Contract into organizations?

This is exactly what Vince Molinaro proposed in both his HRPA session “The Leadership Contract” and his book of the same title.  In them he simplifies the art of leadership to four terms and conditions:

  • Leadership is a decision. Make it.
  • Leadership is an obligation. Step up.
  • Leadership is hard. Get tough.
  • Leadership is a community. Connect.

At its core – leadership is a decision.  You need to make the conscious big “D” decision that you are ready to step up and lead, whether as a front line supervisor or a CEO.  If you are not ready and willing – you are doing both yourself and your potential team a disservice by accepting.

As a leader, you have an obligation and need to make a commitment to the organization, and particularly your employees. This means engaging employees, building relationships, coaching other leaders, and modelling values.  If you feel this is asking too much, then perhaps you need to revisit the first term.

Leadership is rolling up your sleeves and dealing with hard decisions, hard conversations, and hard work.  You cannot shirk or avoid this – you need to face it.  It’s about fostering accountability, being resilient, and doing the right thing.

Finally, leadership requires connecting and building a community with other leaders both inside and outside the organization.   Building bonds and connecting on a more personal level will sustain you through the challenges of being a leader.  You need to have your colleagues back and know that they have yours.  Without this community, you are at risk of being isolated and disconnected.

Consider this: you graduate and enter the world of work, you absorb all that you can, work hard and become recognized as a great technical performer and then it happens –  you are asked to be a leader.  Isn’t this ultimately what everyone is striving to achieve?

The reality is that not everyone is destined to be a leader and, in fact, not everyone wants to be one.  This can be a difficult and uncomfortable idea for current and potential leaders to deal with, especially when a “successful career” is still viewed as someone who wants to climb that ladder.  It doesn’t matter whether they are barely holding on or have their eyes closed for fear of heights; what matters is only that they are up there.

For those who have the opportunity to step into a leadership role, it is important to understand the value that you can offer your organization, but it is even more vital to remember that there is an obligation to recognize that you are part of that organization – you no longer have the freedom to complain about “why doesn’t management do this?”.

Many organizations are becoming responsive in terms of providing leadership training and development,  but perhaps more should be done to provide more clarity on what it means to be a leader and what it takes to be a successful leader.

Finally, we should be shifting how we measure leadership away from dollars earned or other quantitative metrics, to evaluating whether leaders leave the organization in better shape than when they stepped in to the role.  What kind of impact did they make, how did they develop people, what were their contributions.

When it comes to making the decision to be a leader – it is vital to make it an educated and informed decision.  Make sure you read and understand all the terms and conditions before you click that “I agree” box.