In The Turn

Why Do You Lead? 4 Things to Remind Yourself When the Going Gets Tough

Leaders often carry a heavy weight. While leadership has its rewards, the reality of the role can hit you pretty hard at times.

I’m sure there have been many nights you’ve laid in bed, wide awake, trying to think through an issue that was so complex, you weren’t sure any answer would be sufficient. Or you were so worn down from resolving conflicts, you couldn’t find the strength to put out yet another fire. Or you were missing so many family activities because of work, your children were surprised when you showed up at all.

That’s when the doubts creep in. You start to wonder: Is this worth it? Do the rewards of leadership outweigh the burdens?

We all face dark times as leaders. I can think of several crossroads in my career when I thought I just couldn’t do this anymore. Yet as I reflected upon the things that mattered most to me – such as having an opportunity to impact others, or building a company that was a force for good — I knew in my heart I was still in the game and wanted to try again to lead at my best.

What motivates you?

What about you? Why are you on the journey of leadership? I encourage you to think about this question beyond the traditional rewards of success, such as money, power and fame. These are well-deserved rewards for your hard work. But they don’t last, they don’t completely satisfy, and taken to an extreme, they can fundamentally change you into a person you don’t want to become. Answering the question in a different way will get you thinking at another level, about those things that have deeper meaning to you and are intrinsically motivating. This is more along the lines of having a clear sense of purpose for your leadership.

Having a purpose that is both aspirational by design and more meaningful than these other rewards can not only help you push through the tough times, it can lift you to heights you never dreamed possible.

But in the throes of challenge and change, it helps to simply remind yourself why leadership matters.

Why leadership matters

If you’re going through some tough times right now, take a look at these four reasons many leaders choose to lead. Hopefully some will inspire you and spur your thinking about “Why I Lead.”

  • It’s a calling Many leaders feel called to their role, that they are in a certain place at a certain time in their life when they can make a meaningful contribution. I have often felt I was drawn to the business world not just through my natural curiosity and interest in business, but also because I wanted the opportunity to lead using my values and my faith to guide me. I wanted to find a different way to lead that was more rewarding and effective than leading by fear or stepping on others to get where I wanted to go.Do you feel called? And if so, to do what?
  • You are a catalyst As a leader, you are in often in a position to create opportunities for others because of the knowledge, contacts, and wisdom you have gained.You can make a decision to hire someone and give him or her an opportunity that could change the course of their career. You can choose to thoughtfully and intentionally coach someone who is under your wing, investing in their professional development and helping them grow as a leader. You can put in a good word for someone or make an introduction that would give them a professional relationship they might not otherwise gain on their own.How can you be a catalyst for someone else? What can you offer to do for someone deserving of an opportunity you can provide?
  • You get to build new things When you are driven by a goal or a mission that compels you, you can go through almost anything. Building something new can be that kind of motivator, and sometimes we need to remind ourselves of its importance.One of the most rewarding responsibilities of leadership is mobilizing a team and leveraging resources to build new things. Products, services, programs, companies – many of the things you have the opportunity to create can bring real value to others. Customers have a new solution that makes their life better because of your ability to bring something to market. Employees have a meaningful job and a workplace because of a company you helped build from scratch. Your community is a nicer place to live and work because of a non-profit initiative you helped bring to life.What are you building? Can you see the value of it? What can you do to remind yourself and your team of how their daily work is making a difference for others?
  • You can be the change Leadership affords one of the greatest opportunities to have impact in the world — on people, companies, causes and society. As a leader you will find yourself in unexpected situations where you can make a difference, if you have the courage and conviction to do so.You will have opportunities to take a stand for something right when no one else will. You will have the choice to make tough decisions with heart and empathy for others, living up to honorable and worthy principles such as fairness, respect and kindness.It’s a privilege to lead. The question is what will you do with the platform you have? How can you shape the future and be the change you want to see?

There are many other motivations you might be thinking about. Write down your ideas and continue to reflect upon them. Create your own list of “Why I Lead” (see bonus exercise below.) Use this as an encouragement during tough times and most importantly, to help you stay on your leadership journey, no matter where the road leads from here. The best is yet to come.

BONUS Exercise: “Why I Lead”

Clarifying your purpose involves many things, such as identifying your passions, your talents, your values and considering other forces at work in your life. But you can get one step closer to knowing your purpose by defining what motivates you most.

If you’re ready to think more deeply about what motivates you to lead, I’ve got a brief exercise for you.

  1. Review the list above “why leadership matters” to consider some common reasons people choose to lead beyond the traditional rewards of money, power and fame.
  2. As you read through the list, write down whatever thoughts come to mind. Perhaps one or more of the reasons will resonate with you or spur some thinking of your own.
  3. Keep your notes in a safe and readily accessible place such as Evernote, your phone or a journal.
  4. Reflect upon your ideas, then set them aside. Come back to them in a few days and refine your thinking further until you have come up with your own list: “Why I Lead.”
  5. Use this list as an encouragement during tough times and to guide your thinking about your next leadership opportunity. Feel free to update the list over time as your motivations will change.
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