(with apologies to Redbook and Ylonda Gault Caviness)
After we get our first promotion into leadership, with little or no preparation, we learn what leadership really is. Sympathy for our misery is small or non-forthcoming. Resentment is rife among our former peers. Tips and clues are few. We are on our own.
I got a few metaphorical tips from an article about marriage. Leadership is a lot like marriage. In many ways, both good and bad, leaders are in a relationship with their companies. And leaders make some kind of commitment to leadership. There’s no going back and having the scales reapplied to our eyes once we’ve done it. Our eyes have been opened. Here are my thoughts.
1. Leadership is never as romantic as it seems ahead of time. The financial perks seem small once we realize the enormous investment of additional time and energy that will be required, and the many things we will be required to give up. We must really be committed to make this thing work. And some days the work will be absolutely miserable. My very first leadership job was when I was just a teenager. I was Relief Assistant Manager of a Howard Johnson’s Restaurant. That usually meant serving as hostess/cashier and closing the restaurant after making up the bank deposit. But sometimes it also meant busing the tables and washing the dishes. I learned early that a leader has to be willing to do whatever the troops are doing.
2. Taking an actual leadership position is a little bit like waking up from a dream, too, just like marriage is. It takes work. The romance and power have to take a back seat to reality: cash flow crisis, public relations, changing the baby, washing the dishes. We fall more deeply in love by making a really good team. We become better leaders in the daily grind, where our mettle is tested. Leadership is hard work. It’s not enough to just simply know the business and be good at it. You have to really work hard. Harder, as one of my early mentors was fond of telling me, than anyone else.
3. It may happen that when you drive into the parking lot in the morning you won’t want to be there. It doesn’t matter. There are no more mental health days. No fake sick days. You have to be there if you’re the leader. A small business owner who has been a friend a long time said it this way: If you’re open for business, you have to be OPEN! The leader has to be there, at least most of the time, and usually longer than anyone else. If you’re married, you have to spend time together. That’s the whole point. There’s no short cut to spending the time.
4. Not everything about leadership is sexy. It’s not all about power and image, just like not all of marriage is about sex. And that’s okay! Sometimes it’s time to put our shoulders to the grindstone and just simply worry about quality, or production, or stability. If everything is about innovation and entrepreneurship, then there is never any time for perfections and adaptations, and foundation building.
5. The leader isn’t always right. Sometimes the leader has to back down and admit that someone else has a better idea. We’d BETTER learn that! People don’t always like a leader who’s always right and who won’t listen to their ideas. Leadership has give and take just like a marriage does.
6. Being a great leader doesn’t mean everyone will always think you’re wonderful. Sometimes you’ll feel like the dunce in the dunking booth. Everyone is just taking shots at you and it’s your job just to sit up there and take it. And it not only feels that way, it IS that way. Part of the job of being a leader is to take the shots. That’s why they pay us the big bucks. Having conflicts is part of our job security in leadership. If there weren’t so many conflicts in the world, we wouldn’t need so many leaders. You’ll win your share, don’t worry. But make sure the others win their share too. We don’t need to exhaust our leadership making enemies.
7. You’re really the only one you have control over. I know, I know, I know. You thought you were in control. Nope. Sorry. Just like you’re not in control of your marriage partner. It’s just reality again.
8. The last thing is that leadership is a commitment. Just like marriage. You’re committed to your company, to your staff, to your product or service. You’re committed to your mission, your vision, your values. This stuff will change your life. You’ll never be the same. You’ll be creating the culture of your company while you wrestle with these issues of your own. That’s really the only thing that makes leadership work, just like it’s the only thing that makes marriage work. Nobody wants a leader who intends to be off to the next greener pasture in three years anymore than they want a spouse like that. A leader has got to be committed.
The many ways leadership is like a marriage: something to think about. Something no one told us when we signed up for the job. Leadership is not just another job any more than marriage is just another boyfriend or girlfriend. Leadership is a very important choice that will impact the rest of our entire life.