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March 18, 2016

Leadership? I think I'll Pass the Buck!

Keith Jackson


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As a "whippersnapper" doing the rounds of job interviews after leaving school, I brimmed with over-confidence as I sat opposite potential employers and regurgitated every hackneyed and clichéd response to standard questions.

Happily, even in my youthful enthusiasm, I avoided replying to a simple, "How are you?" with an earnest, "Goal oriented, thank you!" But I know that every time I was asked, "Where do you see yourself five years from now?", I'd answer with a cheerful, "I'd like to be sitting where you’re sitting," oblivious to the silent groans of despair from the interviewers.

In those days, the notion of future leadership conjured up images of a private office, a personal secretary, a nice car, and not having to borrow my dad’s decades-out-of-fashion ties for interviews. Five years and several promotions later, as a leadership role became a possibility, I began to realize that being the big boss looked like it also came with a lot of hassle.

Leaders might go home in a car with leather seats and climate control, but a lot of them go home each night with the weight of the world on their shoulders, a few extra gray hairs, and darker circles under their eyes. I'd tell myself that a few weeks in the Caribbean every year was adequate compensation for the burden of responsibility, but the lure of leadership had dimmed a little.

It's the notion of responsibility that troubled me. The more I looked at the people at the top of the tree, the more I realized that, if I was honest with myself, I did not want one of those signs that says "The Buck Stops Here" on my desk.

That might sound unambitious, or that I don’t have the courage of my convictions, but that's not the case. I've held high-pressure and responsible positions, I've managed large teams, I've had to make snap decisions, and I've stood my ground in difficult situations against vocal opposition. But I've always had the safety net of there being someone else another rung higher than me. And it was he or she who shared the responsibility for the consequences of my actions and choices. In my mind, if I was a leader, I'd want me to be my number two!

At a recent interview, I was asked, "This role doesn't have a team management element. Given your experience, would that bother you?" I paused before answering, because I wasn't sure how my answer would sound. The whippersnapper of old would have demanded the chance to manage, the experienced me was pretty pleased not to have to, and said so.

Leadership is not just about the ability to do the job, it's about having the ability and the desire and motivation to lead. And that is something we explore in our quiz, The Leadership Motivation Assessment. Take the test, and find out if you have the right motivation to be a leader.

What are your thoughts on being a leader? What do you think might be holding you back from going for the "top job"? Share your comments below.

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2 comments on “Leadership? I think I'll Pass the Buck!”

  1. Very good blog. Have the same views on leadership. Personally thats what kept me from wanting to be a leader didn't want the responsibility to motivate others. I thought just do my job to the best of my abilities but realizing now thats I was a leader back then and I continue to be a leader without the label or position. I believe that is my next step.

    1. Great thought Vincent about being a leader without the label or position! Even when we are not in positions of leadership, we can still act in a way that draws on the same qualities of a great leader! Plus, doing things outside of work to develop leadership skills is another way that you can gain experience before stepping into leadership roles at work.

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