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Why Leadership Should Be Hard

April 24, 2015
Borderless Leadership

With the arrival of this last month of the year, I’ve been finding myself in a mixed state of mental exhaustion and reflection, which considering the work involved in bringing my first leadership book out into the world alongside my regular workload is quite understandable.

What’s interesting, though, is how many of the leaders I’ve spoken and worked with over the past year are also in this dualistic state. Unfortunately, for most of them, the mental exhaustion is far outweighing any notions of making efforts for reflection and review.

Indeed, I’ve seen many leaders shake their heads and admit with some frustration how their job has become so much harder than it used to be. Although I sympathize with the challenges they face, and the complexities that now dot the landscape of operating in this 24/7 global environment, the reality that we all have to own up to is that leadership is hard. And it’s meant to be hard.

As I’ve written before, leadership is not about you – it’s about the people you lead and serve. That alone makes this job a difficult one because you are taking on the responsibility of combining the hopes, dreams, and ambitions of a diverse group of people and connecting it to something bigger than yourself.

But this has always been the key function of leadership – of how to rally the collective talents, experiences, insights and creativity of a group of people around a common vision or shared purpose that others want to help transform into today’s reality. Our collective history is replete with individuals we admire and try to emulate thanks to their successes in achieving goals that in their time seemed unimaginable.

And yet, in light of today’s faster paced, ever-changing business environment, it can seem almost impossible for us to do anything more than to just get things done or even to just get through our day. But the reality is that those you serve need you to do more than simply clear things off a To-Do list. They need you to do more than simply hand out tasks and assignments that can be measured and tracked in order to assess their efficacy or productivity levels.

While change might be happening at a much faster pace than what we’ve been used to, this doesn’t free us from the reality that those we lead still expect us to be able to connect what they do with why we do what we do.

If your organization is to move forward beyond simply treading water to actually making a difference – to rising above the mediocre to doing something meaningful – you need to be able to continue to inspire, motivate, and empower your employees to bring their full selves to the work they do.

And let’s face it – that’s a pretty tall order to put on anybody’s shoulders, which is why we need to move beyond examining leadership from an inward, self-promoting perspective, to an outward focus on how we can help those around us to collectively succeed.

The simple truth of moving beyond surviving to thriving in today’s interconnected, global economy lies in putting in charge leaders who understand that leadership is hard and that it will continue to get harder in the years ahead. But this difficulty is not something to be wary of. Rather, it is a natural part of the landscape of those human endeavours, of those lofty goals that are worth pursuing.

Leadership can no longer be viewed as another rung up the career ladder, as something that is positionally ascribed because of the role we play in our organization. Instead, we need to view leadership for what it is – a calling to inspire, enable and motivate those around us to believe we can do things better; we can make things better than they are today.

We need leaders who recognize that to engage people in the work they do requires the willingness to truly listen and understand the realities of those under their care. Of what it is that would make people feel like they’re making a difference – that what they do matters and is meaningful – and then connecting that to the greater purpose that defines our organization.

Sounds hard? That’s because it is and that’s exactly as it should be as employees no longer need command-and-control style leaders – those who think they have all the answers and have little interest or need in hearing what those around them have to say about what’s really going on around them. Employees need leaders who openly embrace the truth that they don’t have all the answers, that they will slip up and make mistakes because they are human like the rest of us.

Today’s organizations need leaders who don’t let their limitations define them. Rather, they use their limitations as a guide to help them seek out those around them who can help them to rise above these limitations and in the process, help us to create a future that we all want to be a part of.

In other words, we need leaders who don’t shy away from discomfort because they know that it’s only in those moments where we think that we can do better that we are truly driven to make things better.

Unfortunately, in so many circles of modern day life – both in the public arena and in the private sector – we’ve collectively become resigned to think that such change or to have such expectations of those in charge is unrealistic or unattainable.

And yet, if we are to truly live up to the potential that’s out there, if we are to benefit from the foundation that previous generations have created for us to build our present and future on, then we need to expect more of those who step forward to lead us.

We need to expect more of ourselves as well, of what we’re willing to commit of ourselves to make such visions a reality, both for ourselves and for future generations.

As we collectively face the winding down of another year, it’s important that we don’t simply fall back into our proverbial chairs and wipe our forehead in relief that it’s over. Rather, we need to reflect back on what we accomplished, of where we truly made a difference, and also where we failed to hit the mark.

We need to ask ourselves the tough questions of why do we continue to do what we do? Is if for our own selfish pursuits or is it tied to something bigger, something that others would willingly want to be a part of because they not only see a part for themselves in that grander vision, but because they feel a sense of value and purpose in committing themselves to this journey.

We need to remember that greatness is not sown on the fields of mediocrity, but is grown from the collective efforts of those we empower.

That’s why mediocrity is what we risk fostering if we don’t own up to what we actually accomplished this year through our leadership; of recognizing where we didn’t meet up to the expectations for what those under our care were told they could count on us to deliver.

This is why we’ve seen and will continue to see so many iconic, reputable and longstanding organizations slowly crumbling into oblivion because their leadership insists on taking the easy path; of doing what’s necessary to protect their own status and power instead of looking out for the needs of those they are supposed to serve.

Some of you will read this and feel that the leadership glass is now half-empty, but the truth of the matter is that it’s not half-empty or even half-full.

On the contrary, it’s just waiting for us to acknowledge the reality that leadership is meant to be hard so that we might roll up our sleeves and be the leader our employees need us to be, so we can help them to collectively succeed and thrive in the years ahead.

Source: Tanveer Naseer

By: Tanveer Naseer

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