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So, Why Do You Want to be a Leader?

Is achieving a title the same as becoming a leader? Does the act of climbing mean more trust, influence, respect, and more money? Why are you climbing?


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Calvin Bushor

2 years ago | 8 min read

Right now, you are probably in some sort of production role focused on individual execution. Maybe you are part of a team, and you collaborate with others to get stuff done. For the most part, your success relies on what you output.

Are you a software engineer or a product owner of a suite of capabilities, and you spend your day building or driving new features for clients and your business? Are you a designer outlining incredible experiences for your user, or are you a project manager helping coordinate the execution of a high profile deliverable? Are you sitting there thinking about the next step in your career and you’re considering becoming a leader or manager of a team or have you already taken that step and are questioning your decision?

For days, months, maybe years even, you’ve daydreamed of getting that promotion and becoming the person everyone looks to for guidance and direction. Heck, maybe you’ve already interviewed and you’re waiting to hear back and you think you are about to get called up to the “big leagues” at any moment.

Regardless of the “maybe scenario” that represents your specific situation and your path towards leadership, I want to ask you one important question before your leadership journey begins, why? Why do you want to become a leader? Why do you want to lead and manage a team? Do you know the answer to this question and can you state it clearly and confidently?

When I started my leadership journey, I didn’t know my why!

Understanding your why is the foundation of your leadership and the impact of not having it is monumental on your success as well as the careers of the people you will lead.

The rest of this article will focus on understanding your why with the goal of making sure that you are getting into leadership with the right motivation and the correct expectations. I’ll share where I failed so that you can avoid the same pitfalls I experienced and start your leadership journey stronger than I did.

Let’s begin.

A totally accurate representation of what leadership looks like. /sarcasm

The allure of leadership

I get it. Leadership looks sexy. Everyone looks up to you. The team looks to you for answers. They look to you for your expertise. They look to you for direction, and you provide them with unparalleled wisdom.

The business relies on you, and you have a lot of decision making power and a tremendous amount of influence. Oh, and you make mountains of more money! Or at least, this is the perception a lot of people have about leadership. Some of this is true, but a lot of what’s stated above are actually illusions of leadership, the mirage people see that isn’t full reality.

Is it the title of leadership that you want?

Too often, I experience a new team leader who is really struggling. They haven’t yet been given the extra responsibility of big decisions nor have the influence they dreamed of. Their team seems to intentionally avoid them at times and rarely asks them for help.

And the kicker, the first time they get access to their team’s compensation report, they see they have two engineers and a product owner making more money than they are. I like to refer to this phenomenon as the title trap: the expectation that a title means something just by having it.

Think about it: how many people have you encountered in your career who have an impressive title but seem to have no idea what they are doing?

People tend to believe that by obtaining a certain title they are entitled to more power, influence, respect, and of course, more money.

If your why for becoming a leader is to have a big fancy title and expect that by having it, you auto-magically inherit the clout that comes with years of practice of an experienced team leader, you are setting yourself up for an eye opening experience. Having the title of a leader doesn’t make you one.

Is achieving a title the same as becoming a leader? Does the act of climbing mean more trust, influence, respect, and more money? Why are you climbing?

Is it the power, influence, and money you want?

Sure, leaders have a tendency to be the decision makers in the room. Sure, they have more opportunities to influence the outcome by having more access to people and situations.

Sure, they might make more money and becoming a leader might be a good option for people to grow in their careers, but remember, none of this is a guarantee once obtaining the title of a leader. Power, influence, and money are still earned over time through practice and experience. Just because you have a title doesn’t mean people will listen to you.

New leaders tend to find themselves in situations where they are trying to tell their team what to do, and it feels as if no one is listening. They are in a big meeting, they speak up, and their ideas are ignored. They think to themselves, “Why isn’t anyone listening to me, I’m a leader now.” It’s because these leaders have not yet earned their stripes.

They’ve entered the ring as a new leader and expect people to immediately respond to their direction and ideas. Having a leadership title is merely the beginning of your leadership journey, it’s not the end. Power, influence, respect, and money are all outcomes from being successful at something else, they are all earned, not given.

These outcomes are perfectly fine to desire in any career; but understand, obtaining the title of a leader will not mean you are able to influence the people around you. It will not mean you will have more authority, and it won’t mean your team respects you more because of it but mastering leadership will!

Is it the “climbing of the ladder” that drives you?

Some of us have this burning desire to climb the corporate ladder, progressing upwards on our career path through a chain of promotions. From entry level to senior or principle, the obvious next step is turning into a leader and managing a team, right? Throughout my career, I’ve interviewed hundreds of people for leadership positions.

When I ask them, “Why do you want this role, why do you want to be a leader,” it’s incredible how many answer with, “I want to take the next step in my career.” Becoming a leader from the point of view it’s about your personal career growth and your next step is what I call the lie of the ladder.

 Climbing the ladder is perfectly fine and having ambition to grow in your career is a fantastic trait, I’m not advocating against it. The lie of the ladder is about jumping into leadership because you believe it is the right next step in your career. It’s not that you are wrong, but your motive is flawed.

Weeee! Leaping through the levels of leadership!

Careers initially feel linear. Just climb up to the top and get there as fast as you can! In reality, careers are like the game Mario Brothers 3 on Nintendo. In the beginning, you fly through the first three levels until you grab the magic whistle and teleport to another world, the one where you get to wear a frog suit.

You goof around there a bit and have some fun until you discover another whistle and teleport to a world you wish you never visited, the pirate ship one that’s all dark and scary. The music is intense as you move through the level and you decide hurry back to a level where you felt comfortable. Careers are just like Mario.

You fly through the first few roles and then you start jumping to different ones. Some of them you will love, and some you will run away from the second you try them. You’ll beat the game eventually but you learn to love the parts of the game that bring you joy, like that amazing frog suit.

Leadership is often that level that you teleport to in Mario. You wish you never ventured to it because you weren’t ready. You went there because your goal was to win the game as fast as possible but quickly realized you were’t equipped to win the game just yet. You had more work to do. More coins to collect. It’s okay because this was a great learning experience, and when you are ready to jump back in, you’ll be more prepared.

If it’s not title, power, influence, money, or career growth, then what should my “why” be?

The leadership model I subscribe to and the one I teach is based on mastering leadership by helping others. It’s not about you at all. It’s about everyone and everything else around you.

It’s about understanding the needs of the people on your team, the needs of the business, and the needs of your clients. It’s about helping everyone achieve their goals to the best of their ability. A “why” that stands out to me when interviewing potential leaders is when someone recognizes that their experience and their skills can be used as a multiplier to help the team.

When they acknowledge it’s not about them but instead it’s about helping everyone else be as successful as possible, I know I am interviewing someone who understands what leadership is really about. A leader is there to serve, to build the people, culture, and environment around them that thrives.

Power, influence, respect, money even, are all byproducts of mastering leadership, not by having the title of one. Here’s a leadership secret. Influence comes with trust. Trust comes with vulnerability. Leading through trust and vulnerability to influence leads to inspiration. Inspiration is power.

Inspiration is the key, but it’s one of the hardest things to earn with people because it requires a tremendous investment in human capital to achieve. I don’t mean the normal form of human capital, I mean you are investing a ton of your personal energy capital in being human.

I’m sure you can count on one hand the number of people in your life who have achieved this with you, they inspire you beyond what even you believe you are capable of.

This short list of humans who’ve helped you become who you are today should be the foundation of your why, this is your beacon for what your leadership should look like in the future and it will help you navigate the many levels and worlds you’ll venture through on your journey.

Why am I a leader?

I’m a leader because I love to coach people to become the best version of themselves, and I love to build thriving teams. I’m invested in the humans in and around my team, and I spend a majority of my time understanding who they are, what they need, and how to connect them with other humans who can help them thrive.

I’m committed to my craft, and I invest heavily in honing it by increasing the feedback I receive and by reading, watching, and studying leadership. Leadership is the hardest job I’ve ever had, but it’s extremely rewarding to see people become their best selves.

So, what’s your why?

Can you write it down? Can you communicate it clearly and confidently? Is it purposeful?

Once your why is clear, you’re ready to begin your leadership journey!

Hi, I’m Calvin! I’m a technologist and leader. I build awesome dev teams and develop people into their best selves!

Thank you for taking the time to read this article about leadership life! Leadership is not easy, let’s practice together!

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Calvin Bushor

Technologist, leader, writer, and I created BuildBetterTeams.org to help new tech leaders be better leaders and build awesome dev teams! #LeadershipLife


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