I really enjoy golfing, though I’m not very good at it. But even if I were a fantastic golfer, I wouldn’t want to do it professionally. Most of my friends think I’m crazy. “How could you not want to get paid lots of money to play golf on beautiful courses around the world?” My answer is simple. It would be a grind.
The thought of playing eighteen holes a day, six days a week, and spending additional time at the driving range and the putting green, would get old for me very quickly. The fact is, though I enjoy golfing, I don’t love it. To be great requires that I do.
The same is true for any profession, even the seemingly “glamorous” ones. Whether it is doing stand-up comedy or playing basketball or designing video games, success requires a person to love something so much that he or she would be willing to work harder at it than most reasonable people would want to work.
Leadership is no different. To be a successful leader, one has to love what it entails.
Unfortunately, society has glamorized leadership more than is warranted, leaving far too many people with the dream of being a CEO or a school principal or a pastor. From clichéd graduation speeches that encourage everyone to become a leader, to unrealistic movies that portray leaders as spending their time giving speeches and appearing on television, people have come to believe that being a leader is mostly an attention-getting, personality-centered and ego-satisfying vocation. Any leader knows that it is not. It is about doing hard things day in and day out, even when you don’t feel like it.
The danger of over-glamorizing a profession is not such a big deal when it comes to golf and stand-up comedy or football. It is mostly limited to disappointment on the part of aspiring young athletes and entertainers, and an occasional bad stand-up routine in your neighborhood club. But the cost of people deciding to be leaders for the wrong reason is much greater.
Leaders who choose their vocations out of notoriety or power or money create serious problems in the organizations they are supposed to be serving. They find the daily responsibilities of their jobs—meetings, difficult conversations with employees, management duties—to be tedious or unfulfilling. So, instead of embracing those responsibilities, leaders abdicate them leaving a gaping hole that no one other than the leader can fill. The result is a culture of underperforming companies and confused employees who have come to accept the idea that work is frustrating, if not miserable.
The fact is, for people who love to lead, who not only embrace staff meetings and difficult conversations, but actually prefer them to speeches and TV interviews, leadership is not a grind, but a vocation. Let’s hope that more people come to see leadership that way, and that the others find something they really love.