Leadership – a Calling, Rather than a Career Goal


When I graduated from MBA School, I couldn’t wait to get to work.   I was filled with case lessons, tools and methods.  I was taught by some of the best business minds in the country (not just the Tuck School faculty, but a stream of visiting executives from America’s largest companies who visited campus to spend a day with us.)

This was pretty heady stuff for me at that time.  We were all being trained to assume positions of leadership in corporate board rooms, in government, or on Wall Street.  Yup, that’s what we thought.  I was naïve enough to think that management was actually a “science” and that all I needed was some data, and then I could choose the right model, plug it in, and make better decisions than many executives who were around at that time.

If I am completely honest about it, I WANTED to reach the top . . . and to revel in the things I felt were sure to come with it.  Things like status, power, money, corporate jets, country clubs where powerful people networked, making decisions that impacted thousands of lives, and earned respect all seemed to be within reach.     And, to some degree, I ultimately experienced all of those.   If you think about it, these were incredibly ego-driven, self-serving, and shallow goals.

What’s more, none of those goals have anything to do with leadership.  (If only I could have seen more clearly at the time . . . )

I don’t know this is like you, or anyone else you know, but it seems to me that anyone who is driven to achieve greater financial rewards quickly sees that in the corporate world, the path to it is through leading others.  Higher pay is generally given to supervisors, managers and executives, as compared those who are excellent individual contributors.  We all know it, and covet moving up the corporate ladder, perhaps with less regard for whether it is right for us, our families, and the people we are charged with leading.

Shouldn’t we think about leadership more as if it were a calling, than a career goal?   Yes I said calling . . . as in a calling to a vocation, to ministry, or other life-long pursuit?    Like a medieval cathedral builder for whom the stonework itself was a life’s-work.  Wouldn’t it be great if our leaders were so because they just couldn’t imagine doing anything else with their lives?   Wouldn’t it be wonderful if for them, leadership was a hunger they could never satisfy,  a gift that they had and felt compelled to share, or a compelling driving force that causes them not to rest, or something that they would do for free?

If you are a supervisor, manager or executive today – here are some interesting points to ponder:

 Would you do it without the extra money?  I presume you make more money than do the people you supervise.   Consider that your boss took the pay differential away and you were now making the same amount as your subordinates.  Would you want to keep your job?    Do you feel it would not be worth the added grief and aggravation?  Or, do you not think of the added responsibility as a burden at all, but something that invigorates and excites you?    If you are more in the latter category, this may be a calling.

What do you say when no one is looking?   How do you talk about your work and your team when you feel free to speak your mind, as to close friends or colleagues?   (You might even go back over some of your prior correspondence and emails.)  What language do you use?  How cynical have you become?  How much has your confidence in your people eroded?    Or, is your language filled with expressions of optimism, hope, and possibility?  Do you tend to speak less about  your problems and more about your opportunities?

What are others saying about you?   Do you know a colleague who respects you so much they would tell you what people say about you behind your back?  Would you be surprised, shocked or pleased?   If you have not done a culture survey or had a 360 report done in a while – these too might be useful.   Is there evidence that your team trusts and respects you?  Why or why not?   You might also sit down with them and invite feedback on what you might stop, start, or continue doing as you interact with them.    Do they see you as someone who inspires them, or who controls them?   If you don’t seem to be an inspiring trusted and respected boss, you might think about your line of work.

What does your spouse feel about your work?   Your spouse possibly knows you better than you do yourself.   Does that person see you coming home stressed, irritated, and grumpy?   Or, do they see you as someone who seems to really love their work.    Ask them if they feel you have found your calling or not.

Do you have the innate ability?   Dave Logan, one of the authors of Tribal Leadership, wrote this on one of his blogs:

In research for Tribal Leadership, we heard three experiences over and over from great leaders:

1. A curiosity that they can’t explain about the field, the people in it, and its true nature. In leadership, people are drawn to the study of the field, and examples of leaders. They love biographies of leaders in all parts of life, from heads of state to religious leaders to industrialists. Their minds wrestle with the patterns, and with the lack of patterns, as they work out their own leadership approach. I believe this last point is why Warren Bennis refers to leaders as “conceptualists” — they are drawn to the principles that make leadership function, as they also wrestle with how to apply them.

2. Early abilities. Leadership prodigies weren’t necessarily out in front from the beginning, but they were refining their abilities, and for some, waiting for the right moment to step forward. Even in the quiet period, however, they were gaining respect, an awareness of themselves, and their powers of influence.

3. This curiosity, and natural ability, has always been with them.” As far back as they can remember.

Sound like you?  If not, it is probably worth some soul-searching.

Does this next Video really intrigue you?  Here is a You-tube video about how to change the world.  Does this seem irrelevant and theoretical? Or does it something you couldn’t stop watching?

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2 Comments

Filed under Leading, Personal Leadership

2 responses to “Leadership – a Calling, Rather than a Career Goal

  1. Pingback: 6 Steps to Sustainable Leadership: Feedback Mechanisms « Linked 2 Leadership

  2. Pingback: Incompletions « The Blog of Eric Schleien

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