11 May

Why is Leadership the Only Way Up?

by Devan Graham in Leadership 0 comments

Our organizational structures tell us that after a certain point, if we want to advance in our careers, we have to become a Manager.  But the reality is not everyone is meant to lead people.

There is nothing simple about people leadership.  It’s one of the hardest gigs out there.  Sure, for some (very few actually) it comes naturally.  They are born visionaries, able to motivate a team to execution.  For the rest of us it takes work.  Often a lot of work.  And even then, it isn’t always successful.

Why is that?

  • Effective Leadership Takes Time. You’re busy, I get it. You likely still have tasks and projects that you need complete in addition to leading your team.  And the more time you spend with your team, the less time you spend getting your own work done.  It’s a hard balance at times, and you’re not always going to feel that you’ve got it all under control.  But when you take the time to lead, that’s when you see results. Research has shown that when your team knows their leader is there for them, provides direction and support and overall has their back, they outperform their competition.
  • Effective Leadership Takes Intentionality. Good leadership means being intentional about your actions, your decisions and your communication. This means every day, and all day long.
  • Effective Leadership Takes Self-Awareness. It takes understanding where (and with who) you need to spend your time.  It also takes knowing when to back off, and if you are in over your head and need help.  It takes understanding your leadership approach and how it needs to be adapted for different members of your team and for different situations.
  • Effective Leadership Takes Caring. To be a good leader you have to care about your people.  You have to care about their professional and personal health. It takes finding and creating opportunities for them to grow and develop.  It’s also taking the time to listen to what’s going on in their personal lives and supporting them when they need it.  This is a job all strong leaders take on, you can’t outsource caring about your people.
  • Effective leadership takes that unique combination of strong character, wisdom, leadership presence and the drive to get things done. Many of us have a few of those traits, but it’s rare to find a person who is strong in each of those areas.

Some people thrive on this.  Some people enjoy working through the people problems of their team and get energized by finding solutions and seeing progress.  For others, it’s exhausting. If you don’t like spending your time understanding your people and developing them, leadership might not be for you.  And that’s OK!  So why are we all still striving for this goal? One of the big problems is our organizational structures haven’t adapted to this reality yet.

Our structures are set up to make leadership the higher level positions within the organization.  Once you reach a certain point in your career to move up further means taking on a Manager position (in most cases).  So when the opportunity comes up, (typically accompanied by an increase in pay) we jump on it.  In addition, there is a perceived prestige that goes along with a Manager title.

We continue to lump in leadership and high level individual contributor tasks into one role, and they don’t always go hand in hand.  It’s time for our organizational structures to adapt and look at these things separately, which includes considering (and potentially re-defining) Job Titles, Autonomy, Compensation and Benefits / Perks.  We need to find ways to allow for strong Individual Contributors to move up the ladder, increase responsibility and prestige, but not necessarily have to take on direct reports.  On the other side of the coin, we need to stop treating leadership as a side gig.  We need to carve out time for our people leaders to lead and recognize that the best leaders may not always be our strongest do-ers!

Devan is a Partner with Acuity HR Solutions.  For more information about what Acuity’s team can do for your organization, visit our website at

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