On Becoming a Leader - The One Factor that Can Make or Break You

A reporter once asked me how someone could best position himself to go from being an individual contributor to becoming a manager. It got me thinking about what the most successful leaders I’ve worked with over the years have had in common as compared to those who have struggled.

As I reflected on this question, I realized that, though there are a myriad of factors that can determine success, there is one that stands above all the others-one without which no one will get very far. And this vital factor is quite simply a person’s motivation for wanting to become a leader in the first place.

Many seek management positions for the increased pay, prestige and upward mobility that comes along with them. And while there is no denying that an elevated rank does bring sought-after rewards such as these, people driven solely by the promise of these rewards would do themselves, their organizations and all the people with whom they interact a huge service by thinking a little more about their options before charging full speed ahead.

Are you thinking about moving into management? If so, you’ll need to shift your focus from achieving individual success to achieving collective success. The rules of the game change when you step into a leadership position. It’s no longer about what you can do on your own, rather what you can accomplish through others. If your chief interest is your own career mobility, you’ll have trouble gaining the trust and respect of others that is necessary to influence and enable them to succeed. And if they don’t succeed, neither will you.

Wanting them to do well is not enough. You’ve got to be committed enough to their success to take the time to coach, mentor and otherwise support them to reach their career goals. If that doesn’t excite you, it will feel like a chore-something you have to do that keeps you from all the things you would rather be doing. But if this work does appeal to you, every day will bring new opportunities to find meaning and fulfillment in your work-by helping others discover themselves to be greater than they first realized, and working toward something bigger than yourself.

Moving into management requires a shift from the tactical and operational to the strategic. That means that all the things you were good at before will no longer be enough to allow you to succeed as a manager and a leader. You will need to enable and trust others to do those things so that you are freed up to do more strategic, big picture things-things that will likely challenge you to go out of your comfort zone.

Your world must widen from what an individual job entails to the interplay of all the jobs in your department and how you can allow the work of your department to best complement other areas and contribute to the organization as a whole. The challenges you’ll contend with will have a larger breadth than what you were previously accustomed to working on and you will need to work in partnership with people you may not have otherwise had to interact with. Additionally, a big part of your job will be envisioning and co-creating a better future-one that will enable the organization as a whole to succeed. Recognizing and addressing opportunities that are coming around the bend and identifying people with the talent necessary to leverage them will become an important part of your work.

It is not uncommon for people in management positions to feel that these jobs aren’t all they were cracked up to be. If you’re one of them, it is essential to realize that this doesn’t mean you failed. It simply means that you’ve succeeded in getting that much closer to finding work that is aligned with your true self-work that will not only bring you satisfaction and fulfillment but also the opportunity to make a significant contribution.

Get busy identifying what you are truly motivated to do. Many organizations have technical tracks that offer the same (or more) upward mobility and monetary reward that management tracks do. Pay attention to the opportunities that have beckoned to you in the past-even the ones you thought were too crazy to consider. If you have recurring dreams of doing anything other than what you are doing now, give them more credence. It just may be the ticket that allows you to find the job of your dreams-and the chance to exercise your own distinct form of leadership, by doing what you were truly meant to do.

Image Credit: Ruth Ellison

About Diane Bolden

Diane Bolden is passionate about helping people actualize their brilliance in a way that inspires others to do the same. In addition to being the author of The Pinocchio Principle ~ Becoming the Leader You Were Born to Be, Diane is an executive coach, speaker, yoga lover and mother of three. Join Diane On the Road to Real, visit her Synchronistically Speaking blog, follow her on Twitter;, or visit her YouTube channel for more.