Have You Earned The Right To Lead?

September 14, 2015 Vince Molinaro

In the battle royal that is the Republican leadership race, a new front opened up in the ongoing battle between businessman Donald Trump and some of the other GOP challengers. And this time, the issue at stake is whether all of the candidates have earned the right to lead.

Former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina added most of the fuel to this fire when she said this week that Trump did not have the resumé to lead a political party. Fiorina and Trump have been sparring with each other for much of the last week after the New York businessman made fun of Fiorina’s appearance, suggesting that she was not attractive enough to carry the Republican colors into the next presidential election.

“I think Donald Trump is an entertainer,” Fiorina said in New Hampshire. “And I think I am a leader.”

This has been a frequent theme in Fiorina’s campaign, and one that has drawn a lot of criticism based on the fact that her stewardship of HP was less than successful.

And yet, in broaching the subject, Fiorina has raised an important question.

Do you have to earn the right to lead? To me, the answer is clear – YES!

When I think of the leaders I have worked with, some definitely do not believe that leadership is something that has to be earned. Many of these people think that just positioning oneself for a promotion is enough to justify their rise to a position of leadership. Or just saying, “I’m a leader”, is enough to warrant the role.

These are scenarios in which the leaders, even before they are asked to lead, have a sense of entitlement. They are focused less on what they have done, and how they’ve done it, and think more about how they have jockeyed themselves to be the next logical choice to lead.

This is promotion by the process of elimination. After you eliminate all the other candidates for their various shortcomings, you are left with only one person. And then, by default, that person gets to lead.

These folks believe that if given the opportunity, they will prove their mettle as leaders AFTER they have been promoted. “Give me the job first, then I’ll show you what I can do”, is their common refrain.

Wait a minute. What about demonstrating that you have earned the right to lead in the first place? The reality is that your track record as a leader-in-waiting matters a lot. You should be expected to demonstrate the quality of an accountable leader long before you are given the reigns. An obvious point, but one that’s not so obvious to many.

In my experience, truly great leaders are people who have proven all throughout their careers that they have the attitude and work ethic to drive results and inspire the people they lead.

In other words, they know you must earn the right to lead every single day.

Here are a few ways to determine if you have earned the right to lead:

  • Have you left things better than you found them? Or are there a lot of loose ends and unfinished business that someone else will have to address?
  • Have you done what you said you were going to do? Many leaders make a lot of promises. Only the truly accountable ones deliver against them.
  • Have you built up successors and future leaders to help your company succeed? Or is your department void of any real leaders?

These are tough questions that all of us need to consider in our leadership roles.

This week’s Gut Check question: Have you earned the right to lead?

About the Author

Vince Molinaro

Vince Molinaro is the Global Managing Director of Strategic Solutions at Lee Hecht Harrison. He is also the author of The Leadership Contract – a New York Times and USA Today bestseller. Vince has spent more than 20 years as an adviser to boards and senior executives looking to improve leadership in their organizations.

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