Leadership is not for the faint of heart. Being a leader means more than receiving salutes and getting a special parking space reserved just for you; it also means making difficult decisions and facing intense loneliness.
Now, before we go any further, leadership also brings indescribable (if not always tangible) rewards. After all, if leadership were nothing but one sacrifice after another with no respite, few people would even consider stepping up.
But make no mistake: Being in charge means being responsible. This responsibility can be difficult to deal with on several different levels.
Paying the price
“Integrity means doing the right thing even when it costs more than you’re willing to pay.”
- CPT Matt Thompson, United States Army
As leaders, we are called to be of the highest character. The privilege of having authority over other people demands that we hold ourselves to a higher standard, to value Honor over all. This takes a considerable amount of personal courage.
It’s really tempting to go down the beaten path, the easy route. But real leadership is about self-control, service, and sacrifice. It can be very frustrating when we find ourselves working with—or for—people who do not have the strength of character or moral courage required to do right thing.
Beyond that frustration is sacrifice. There’s always a price for doing what’s right. True Honor and Integrity means paying that price, no matter the cost.
But the true test of character comes when we’re faced with ambiguity. It comes in the moment of uncertainty, when we don’t know what will happen after we do what’s right. Real leaders choose to do the right thing even when there’s no price tag to warn them how much they’re about to pay.
That said, in the end, doing what’s right always costs less than the price of doing what’s wrong.
Popularity vs. Respect
“You have enemies? Good. That means you’ve stood up for something, sometime in your life.”
- Sir Winston Churchill
When all is said and done, sometimes the most important (and harshest) judge of your behavior is yourself. You might lose friends. You might face rumors and false accusations. But if you can look at yourself in the mirror and know that you did the right thing, that’s all you really need to worry about.
You can’t expect to be a leader and to be popular. To be a leader is to take a stand and challenge people; to demand that they become better than they are now. This is never a popular task. You can hope to be respected, but never expect to be liked.
Doing what’s right is not always popular, but in time, you will earn respect by establishing a track record that people can trust. Earning this respect is an important element of effective leadership.
Facing the Loneliness
“Command is lonely.”
- GEN Colin Powell, United States Army (retired)
There is a special order of loneliness reserved only for leaders. We are called to stand up for what is right, even when nobody else will stand up with us – even when it costs more than we’re willing to pay. When you choose to become a leader, you are choosing to embrace that loneliness with both arms.
That said, it’s important to note that GEN Powell said “command is lonely.” This is very different from saying that “commanders are alone.” The best leaders surround themselves with advisors and mentors who can help them think things through when they’re struggling with a decision.
Good commanders are rarely alone, but it is very possible to feel lonely even in a room full of people. This loneliness stems from bearing sole responsibility for making the decision.
It has been said that success has a thousand parents, but failure is an orphan. Few things are lonelier than admitting that there’s no one to blame but yourself. No one can share that pain with you, but at least you aren’t living a lie.
The Bottom Line
We don’t promise you a rose garden. Being responsible can be fun, but it can also be tough, frustrating, and often inconvenient. In the end, leadership is not about what you can get out of it; leadership is about what you’re willing to give up.
Do you have what it takes to be leader?