Some Harsh Truths About Being a Leader

By Lolly Daskal

Many people think of leadership as a glorified profession, one with impressive titles and lots of prestige and benefits. That may or may not be the case, but every level of leadership involves some hard truths. If you’re already in leadership, you likely know these all too well already, but if you’re aspiring to a leadership role, or if you work with a leader, keep them in mind:

Leadership means sacrifice. Leadership at its core is about sacrifice of self-interest. True leadership is other-focused—it’s about investing in other people to help them succeed, even at the expense of your own interests. You have to put your personal priorities away and work for the good of your people.

Leadership means constantly being judged. People are especially judgmental of their boss. Every decision you make—from promotions to project assignments to office decor—is subject to scrutiny. You have to learn not to take it personally, and that’s not always easy.

Leadership means having to be strong for others. People come to their leader with all kinds of challenges and burdens, and it’s part of your charge to always be strong and looking out for them. Making sure that people feel supported and provided for takes an enormous amount of perseverance.

Leadership means carrying the load. You may not have a sign on your desk that says “The Buck Stops Here,” but if you’re in leadership, it does stop with you. You’re in charge so you have to take responsibility, even when the burden is difficult.

Leadership means making people unhappy. There will always be people who don’t support your ideas and initiatives, and some of those people may actively oppose you or be upset with your choices. You truly cannot make everyone happy or have everyone like you. The best you can do is to be honest and consistent in yourself.

Leadership means failing visibly. Everyone makes mistakes and everyone has failures. But when a leader fails, they fail in full view of the entire team. Bad judgment calls and missteps, large or small, are right there. Everyone knows about them; there’s nowhere to hide and no excuses that will help.

Leadership means being mindful of your influence. As a leader you need to pay attention to everything that comes out of your mouth. Your words matter, whether you’re addressing a large group, in a small meeting, or telling a joke in the hall. People will be paying attention to what you say and how you say it.

Leadership means liking your people, even the difficult ones. As a leader, your first priority is the people who work for you, even the most difficult, the most challenging, the most unpersonable. It’s a priority that can be tough to maintain.

Being a leader is not for the weak. You’re constantly scrutinized, judged and held to a higher standard than most people. Great leaders always find a way to make it work—and that’s what makes them great leaders.

Lead from within: There’s no manual for leadership, no five-step process that will give you the answers. You have to sort out how to be a great leader by doing it and being it

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