So, You Think You Can Lead?

April 1, 2014 Vince Molinaro

So, You Think You Can Lead?

By Vince Molinaro, Managing Director, Leadership Solutions, Knightsbridge

Many in the business world know the story of Steve Wozniak, the engineer who invented the very first Apple computer. Originally a programmer at HP, Wozniak was reluctant to leave his job and start a new company because he did not want to be a corporate leader, he wanted to remain an engineer.

Ultimately, Apple turned to Mike Markkula, a successful angel investor, to run the new company. Wozniak was then able to continue doing what he did best ─ be the technical leader for Apple. The results of this key decision speak for themselves. Apple has become one of the most successful technology companies of all time.

The Wozniak story is interesting because it demonstrates that sometimes it’s not necessary to force a strong technical performer into a leadership role. In fact, there are many more examples of organizations that are struggling after foisting leadership responsibility on employees who were not ready or not wired for the job.

Why would more people not take Wozniak’s approach? Many may lack the self-awareness he had. Others simply take on leadership roles just to get the fatter paycheck, the nicer office, and the increased power and authority. But if you seek a leadership role solely based on “the perks,” it would be better that you rethink your decision.

The fact is that leadership is hard. But if you’re wired for it, and prepared, it can be one of the most rewarding things you can ever do. It’s an opportunity to build a team, drive higher performance, and leave a lasting impression on your customers, your organization, and the communities in which you do business.

So do you think you can lead?  Here are four questions to help you start thinking through your own answer.  

Do I want to have greater impact in my organization? When you look around do you see ways you can make things better for employees, for customers, and for the bottom-line? The second you start thinking about making things better for others is the time you starting thinking like a leader. In the end, all leaders step up to make the world a better place. Whether that place is a small team, a department, an organization, or society. 
Do I have the stomach for leadership? Leadership is hard and the best leaders demonstrate courage. Are you confident enough to make the tough calls, deal with poor performance issues, and face the uncomfortable scenarios that will arise?  Real leaders take personal accountability and step to the front of the line when there is difficult work to be done.
Do I get jazzed by developing leadership in others?  Organizations today need leadership at all levels. The most effective leaders identify and cultivate leadership capacity in others. They look for ways to stretch and grow others and they recognize that they are stronger when they are surrounded by a strong team.
Do I have the humility to lead? Leaders with huge egos create huge problems in organizations. You clearly need strong self-confidence, but you also need strong humility. Why?  Because you will make mistakes ─ leadership is humbling. You won’t get it right every single time. So you will need to commit to lifelong learning. You will need to be strong enough to accept your shortcomings and do something about them. If your ego can’t handle that, then decide to opt out of leadership. You’ll save yourself and your future direct reports a lot of unnecessary pain.

As you review your answers to these questions, you may realize you are not ready to lead. That’s absolutely fine. In fact, you may have already made an important contribution to your organization. The last thing it needs is another ambivalent leader.

If you have chosen not to lead, then you must find a way to continue to add value. Like Steve Wozniak, sometimes the best decision is to decline a leadership opportunity, and to remain in a function or technical area that can better serve both you and your organization.

On the other hand, if after answering those questions you still think you can lead, then get ready to roll up your sleeves. Commit to being the best leader you can, and in turn help your organization be the best it can. Good luck.  

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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