Loneliness of Leadership

August 27th, 2009 by Sharon Larsen

Today we learn about the loneliness of leadership:

Great leaders are often required to stand alone. They must make difficult decisions and stand by them, sometimes facing immense opposition. Many business owners confuse popularity with good leadership. In truth, as you learn to make the hard choices and have the courage to follow through, popularity may be one of the first things you sacrifice.

Do you remember your most inspirational teacher?  I do: Coach Tuft. He was tough! Coach Tuft taught with a unique structure and approach, and always expected significant effort for the results he expected.

He may not have been the most popular, but he truly exemplified great leadership. Coach Tuft was honest, straightforward, demanding, and cared enough to give me relevant and, at times, piercing feedback. He held me to a higher standard than I ever dreamed of holding myself to.

But don’t be such a strict taskmaster that you make enemies at every turn. My mentor, Dr. Peter Horne, told me something very important: “Be nice to the people on the way up because you’re going to see them again on the way down.”

What about your easiest teacher? Remember her or his name? I can’t! I do, however, remember his face, and the shenanigans I used to pull in class from time to time.  The same principle holds true as you lead. Leaders need to be honest, straightforward, and able to elicit an individual’s best work far more than they need to be popular.

Consider an example found closer to home. What happens when parents attempt to win popularity contests in an effort to be best buddies with their kids?  Anarchy! Children want and need their parents to set boundaries, provide structure, and elicit excellence.  They neither need nor want parents to win popularity contests, even on their grumpiest of days.

The same is true of a business leader. A strong front may leave you out of the fun lunches from time to time, but know that the line you are guarding is an important one. The success of your business hinges on your ability to motivate and inspire, not your ability to make your team laugh at the Friday afternoon get togethers.

One of the greatest leaders to walk the earth did so two thousand years ago. His life exuded loneliness from birth to death. This is how Jesus Christ expressed his understanding of this principle: “The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head.”  Bible (King James Version). Matthew 8:20.

Porter’s Points – Loneliness of Leadership

  • Do not fear to stand alone. Popularity does not make a great leader.
  • Hold yourself to a higher standard.
  • Set high standards for your team in order to elicit each individual’s best work.

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