Redefining Leadership


Redefining Leadership

(and your role in your organization)

Tyler Durden: You decide your own level of involvement!

Fight Club  20th Century Fox

"There are two types of people in the world: those who push and those who sit back and enjoy the ride. Who do you want to be?"

I grew up with a lot of these sayings separating those who "do" and those who "do not do enough". We have a culture of elitism, which is great for some—but what about those who don't want to change the world? Those who want to enjoy work and be good at it, but also have a family and a life outside of work? Those who are looking to fill a role? Those people are belittled in our culture. Business books ask, “If you aren't reinventing yourself; your image; your brand, then what are you doing?”

When did being "good" become "not enough"?

Our culture of exceptionalism is working counterintuitive to a productive business model. Most of us were raised in communities that rewarded leadership, extroversion, and Type A personalities. The truth is that not everyone is looking to be a CEO or a lead on a team—so where does it leave those people who just want to get by? A company needs a diverse community, if everyone is leading, nothing will get accomplished. This post will help you discover your place by framing what you are working towards, and how to best perform in that capacity.

To begin, when planning your future, having a goal or desired outcome is important. Take a moment to give an honest assessment of where you are and where you would like to be. Strip away the social attachments and only think about where you want to be in your career and the lightest-feeling goals. Think about your “future state” while you read this post and be open to additions, subtractions, and revisions.


Lifelong Amateurs vs. “Going Pro”

I spend a lot of my time with other writers. The difference between a good author and an author who sells thousands of books is about eight hours a day. Someone at the top of their field spends significantly more time working on their craft. This is typical in most fields. The difference between “good” and “pro” is if you do something as a hobby or if it is the center of your life.

Anyone can write a book if they spend two hours a day on their craft. Some good self-published authors do. Writers who sell books and win awards spend somewhere closer to 10 hours a day on their craft. If your goal is to self-publish online and have a small cult following, two hours a day may be your number. If you want to sell books and have people show up when you give a reading, you will need to spend closer to 10 hours a day on your craft, deeply focused, typing, reading, researching, and talking craft and theory. Not everyone wants to commit to that kind of a lifestyle. Whether it be writing, programming, or starting your own company, if you decide to “go pro”, it works best if you love the process. But what if you don’t want to “go pro”?

If your goal is to become a VP or CEO, expect even more of a commitment; 12 hour days are not uncommon for VPs and CEOs. Vodafone, CEO of Vittorio Colao is on the move from 6 am until 10:45 pm. In a Business Insider article, Helena Morrissey, CEO of Newton Investment, “gets up at 5 in the morning, sometimes earlier, and immediately starts sending emails until her kids get up. She has family dinner scheduled at 7:30 p.m., but works again after that, sometimes for as much as two hours, prepping for the next morning's meetings.” Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook, said he only spends 50 to 60 hours each week in the office or in meetings. However, outside of the office, Facebook is always in the back of his mind. Zuckerberg went on to say: “But if you count all the time I’m focused on our mission, that’s basically my whole life.” But what if you don’t want to be a VP or CEO?


You Don’t Need to be a Leader to be Successful and Happy

As a culture, we have placed too much weight on being a leader. In our “everyone gets a trophy” society, the value of leadership has changed: being a subordinate is now “degrading” (can I even use the word ‘subordinate,’ or did your stomach just tense into a tiny ball? Yikes!). Yet, how can we expect an organization to function if everyone is a leader? If everyone is an anarchist, no one on your team will be on the same page, but the similar is true if everyone tries to impose order.

Although I believe that everyone has the potential to be a leader, many choose not to act on this potential because they don’t want the responsibility and pressure that comes along with leadership.

CC Image by Cliff via Flickr

CC Image by Cliff via Flickr

There is too much pressure being placed on people to become leaders. Being good at your job doesn’t mean you have to be a leader. If you feel like you will be more effective in your current position, don’t take a leadership position until you are ready for it—you don’t have to take every opportunity that comes your way.

"Old Blood and Guts" General George S. Patton, one of the greatest heroes of World War II, was wildly successful not as a leader. General George Marshall, the U.S. chief of staff said, “Patton is the best subordinate the American army has ever produced, but he would be the worst commander.”

If you take a leadership role you don’t want, you probably won’t be effective. Instead, you will be a burden on the company and you will be taking an opportunity from someone who could use it to excel in their career. More importantly, you won’t be utilizing your potential.


Know Your Scale

As you are discovering where you fit in your organization or career, ask yourself these four questions:

Why do you do what you do? Are you making art for the sake of art, money, fame, or something else? All are motivators and only you should decide which one works best for you. There is usually a socially “right” answer and then there is your answer. Go with that one.

Will I be happy in this market? Jonathan Gottschall said: “Novelists who target highbrow readers shouldn’t complain when those are the only readers they get.” If you are targeting a small market, expect your sales to reflect accordingly. 

Is this a career or a job? Are you a leader out of the pride you have for the project you are working on, or, is this job a paycheck? There is no shame in working a “paycheck” job, but make sure you are putting in the hours and/or energy expected for that position.

What is the time commitment? If you are working on moving up at your company or in the industry, you need to increase your ass-to-chair time. Most writers who run into problems are having an ass-to-chair problem: they don’t write; they only talk about writing. Unsurprisingly, this applies to your field—and every other field—as well. It’s easy to talk about making progress, but to move ahead, you have to buckle down and do the work. 


Looking back to this summer’s NLP blog posts, modeling becomes an important step for getting on the right path to meet your goals. Discover where your sweet spot is in your organization. A good company functions well because it has a diverse community.


Andrew J. Wilt

SEI Analyst

Apprenticeship Program

andrew.wilt@sustainableevolution.com