Have you ever heard the phrase: “No good deed goes unpunished?” The same concept applies to assuming a position of leadership.
We might rephrase this old adage for leaders in the following way: “No leader with good intentions goes unpunished.”
The last blog introducing this series referenced a 2016 article by Cynthia Carver in the Journal of Research on Leadership Education, which made the case that leadership begins by embracing a leader identity. People must be willing to shed the manager identity and move forward with a leader identity before others will invest in the individual making the transition.
“People must be willing to shed the manager identity and move forward with a leader identity before others will invest in the individual making the transition.”
The article explains clearly why many individuals are unwilling, on the face of the idea, to embrace a leadership role. Dr. Carver points out that individuals assuming leadership roles encounter resistance and isolation from their peers, even though they used to be “good friends.” So, when leaders try to make even subtle changes, all with good intentions, they are punished by their former friends. Leaders often report a rise in internal conflict as their role expands in the job.
What then is the transformation process; how do individuals persist through these challenges? The process outlined in the article starts with the individual coming face-to-face with a critical incident or persistent, hard-to-ignore dilemma.
I’ve worked with many attendees in my seminars who assumed leadership positions because a relative died and they had to take over the company. Or the family expanded and the leadership job paid better than the manager job. Or the organization was failing and someone had to do something—a real dilemma presented itself.
In my book Critical Conversations as Leadership I reference a story about a small business owner’s son who suddenly had to take over the business after his father died. His dad had never given him the mentoring or leadership opportunities he needed to make a smooth transition into the head slot.
As dad’s son, he was around the staff playing more of a Friend Card never having to play a Leader Card. Predictably, the son reported that when he had to take over he was scared—afraid of the rejection and isolation, which certainly happened.
He needed to earn his way into the role and develop the self-confidence needed to succeed.
This son made the smart move of connecting with other young leaders in his community who faced the same challenges. Together they strategized about how to win over the troops and build both competence and the self-confidence needed to overcome fear of rejection.
This can be a steep learning curve, or it can be more gradual and thoughtful. But, at some point, your leadership will experience the “big reveal” in the sense that you will be revealing your role transformation. Your nonverbals, your confidence, your knowledge, and your refined communication skills will reveal your leadership.
Yes, it will be tough, but the transformation is truly life changing.