Why Are You a Leader?

Leadership can be hard. But it can also be one of the most rewarding roles of your life if it aligns with your bigger why.

A few years ago, I coached a leader who taught me some very important lessons about leadership. When we worked together, “John” had been in his manager role for about five years. He was miserable. We had been meeting for a few weeks when I asked him why he chose to be a leader. His response surprised me when he said, “I didn’t. I chose to be a manager. Now I’m expected to be a leader.” This opened the door for a wonderful, deep, and revealing discussion.

A Common Career Path

John had applied for and gotten the manager position when his boss retired. He applied because he said it seemed like the right next step for him. “Isn’t that what we’re all supposed to do to keep growing?” he asked.

 John was a respiratory therapist who fully enjoyed his work with patients, and it showed. His manager was consistently getting positive feedback about him from patients, nurses, and physicians. When he was promoted to his managerial position, John was looking forward to the weekday hours, an increase in salary, and the title. What he didn’t consider wasthat he would now have very limited time with patients, spending the bulk of his time in meetings, managing the budget, doing paperwork, onboarding, and coaching staff.

In one meeting, he sheepishly admitted that he didn’t like managing people at all. He had expected that he would put out the schedule and that everyone would show up, do a great job (like he did), and get along. Instead, he felt he was constantly putting out fires and coaching on skills he considered basic.

Connecting to Your Own Values

When John talked about why he became a respiratory therapist, he lit up. He talked about his passion for helping people recover from surgeries and deal with chronic illness. It was clear that being a hands-on therapist was aligned with his purpose. It filled him up. On the flip side, he described management as soul-sucking. When he realized this, he laughed out loud and said, “What was I thinking? I don’t want to manage people or operations. I just want to care for patients.”

That revelation was life-changing for John, and he was glad to return to clinical work after they could find his replacement. There is no shame in stepping down when you realize leadership is not for you. John was secure in his decision and transitioned smoothly back into patient care.

What I learned from John is that many people are originally drawn to management for the hours, salary, and title, but don’t consider the job duties required. Now, when I coach someone seeking a promotion, I always ask what appeals to them about the position and make sure they know exactly what the position entails.  I look for signs that they thrive on helping others grow and become the best version of themselves.  After all, that’s what great leaders do.

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