Footprints Not Pedestals: Leadership as an Activity Not a Destination
Why do you want to be a leader? For the money, the control and the swanky office? Or for the difference you can make to the world along the way?
If it’s the former then you’re setting yourself up for disappointment, because real leadership isn’t about the destination – the prestigious job and the office suite. It’s an activity, and treating it that way is the only way you’ll get real satisfaction from your work.
Why You’ll Never Reach That Peak
Treating leadership as a prize, something prestigious you’ll get for your hard work, means aiming for a goal that doesn’t exist.
One reason is obvious, or should be if we stop to think about it. Leadership is hard work. Once you get there, you’ll always have more to do. It isn’t the reward for your work – it is the work. Once you reach the dizzy heights, whatever your field, you’ll have to keep working to stay there. Staying on the peak is a balancing act.
But the other reason is that the idea of reaching “the top” is illusory. Power and prestige are relative. However high you reach, someone will always have more than you. If your satisfaction is based on owning that power then you’ll never be happy, because there’ll always be more that you could have. There’ll always be someone doing better than you.
Why You Shouldn’t Want To
This gets into why that status and power isn’t any more desirable than it is realistic. To be human isn’t to stay still. We don’t get to become a complete, whole person and then stay that way. We’re always growing, always changing, always aging. Being a successful human being is an activity not a destination, whether you’re a leader or not.
If you can’t aspire to a final goal then what can you aspire to?
The answer is to achieve as much as you can along the way. Some of that will be personal satisfaction from completing activities, setting work in motion and seeing its results. There’s a satisfaction that comes from doing anything well, from washing the dishes to leading a corporation.
The other part is to do as much good as you can for others along the way. We all return to dust one day, but the good we do lives on beyond us. It also creates a better society for us to live in while we’re here.
How to Keep Moving
This can sound a little dispiriting. After all, if there’s no destination then why not just stay where you are?
That’s a valid option if, like a Buddhist monk, you just want to escape the cycle of existence. But if you want something more, if you want to enjoy this life you have, then the answer is to keep on moving.
Don’t look at what’s already in place and accept it as is. Look at what you could make that’s better. Be willing to smash things as they are to create something even more awesome.
Recognize that your mind, like your body, is in a constant state of change. It can get better or it can get worse, so find activities to help it grow.
Recognize that the people you look up to have not reached some lofty and distant destination of power, because no such destination exists. Recognizing that, just like you, they’re on a journey of constant change and creativity can help to take them off the pedestal and flatten the impostor syndrome that holds many of us back. Because if leadership is an activity, not a destination, then it’s just as valid for you to be where you are as for your heroes to be where they are.
How to do the Most Good Along the Way
And how can you do the most good along this journey?
Recognize that, if there are no end destinations, then the end never justifies the means. Each activity is an end, a beginning and a part of the journey. They should always be evaluated in terms of their impact.
Recognize the gap between can and will. “Can” is wasted potential until it’s turned into action. “Will” is when you make that potential part of your journey. The moment you sit back and say that the ability to do something is as good as doing it, you’re thinking in terms of destinations, not actions.
Help others to turn their potential into action. As a leader, don’t look at where your employees are now but where they could be travelling. How can they improve? How can they progress? And what will you do to fill the gap when they move on? If you treat their position as their destination, you’ll be disappointed when they turn it into a step along their path.
Leadership is a journey. The end result isn’t a pedestal to sit on, but a line of footprints marking your passage. So don’t worry about that pedestal, and instead consider how to leave the best trail you can.