One of the interesting outcomes I’ve observed when engaging truly thoughtful people in the process of understanding the role of a leader and the commitment required for success, is that some people decide it’s not a good fit.

They decide to become great followers instead of great leaders.  And they feel relieved.

We Tend to Make Saying “No to Leadership” Difficult:

I’ve learned from a number of individuals who walked to the edge of the leadership path and then turned back, that we often make it difficult for them to say, “no.”

  • There’s pressure inside organizations to show growth and increase contribution by taking on formal leadership responsibilities.
  • Yes, there are still working environments where the only way to increased financial reward is through directly managing others.
  • In our zeal for the support and development of great leaders, we (existing leaders, leadership writers etc.) tend to mythologize the role of the leader and position it as an aspirational goal for everyone. Leadership is built up to be the noble end-goal, while the decision to not pursue a leadership life is to carry a negative connotation…a kind of Scarlett Letter that brands the individual for everyone to see.

Three Key Reminders for All of Us:

1. Not everyone should lead. Some people lack the skills and appropriate intelligences (social and emotional) to lead. Others simply want to cultivate their skills in an area they are passionate about, and a voluntary or forced decision to move away from that passion is like a prison sentence.  As a promoting manager, it’s your job to help assess all of these issues. Don’t force people into unnatural roles.

2. More money is a lousy motivation to lead. Do I really have to explain this one? For those of you working in firms where the compensations structure was defined in the 1950’s, it’s time to start pushing for something that eliminates the dollar need and greed as motivation to pursue a leadership role. Start with a dual-track system that supports professional and financial development for leaders and individual contributors.

3. Great leaders require great followers. You don’t win championships in sports without critical role players, and you don’t win in the business world without people committed to working and contributing according to their strengths.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

Perhaps it’s time to start offering “followership” training and mentoring along with all of our leadership offerings.  Kudos to those who decide that leading is not for them. No more unnatural acts, please.   It’s OK not to lead.