Leadership, Part 10: The Motivation to Lead

In the previous seven posts, I laid out a progression of leadership, with the understanding that the fundamental need for any leader is a group of people willing to follow. At one end, an individual through a crisis or through a compelling vision can develop a group of followers. At the other end, the leader can attain or sustain a leadership position through mere comparison to the opposition, by rewarding loyalty (compensation or consideration in kind), and finally, simply by exercising absolute control, where the comparison is between remaining alive or being killed, and the compensation is not being killed.

I was not making the assertion that any particular leader or regime would sequentially pass through the seven steps, that the ultimate end of any leader’s tenure is one of absolute control.

In the coming week, we are going to unpack this progression in terms of several key questions, such as: what motivates someone to leadership? what attributes allow leaders to continue in leadership without progressing to a tighter leadership mode? are leaders made or are they born? So let’s look at the first issue.

What motivates an individual to leadership?

When I developed the lead person training course that led to the development of the 7C model, I was coming from the perspective that the lead person position was the individual’s first leadership position in the work setting. I was also operating from the belief that in the vast majority of cases, the person’s ascension into the lead role had nothing at all to do with anyone’s perception of the person’s leadership capability.

From the organization’s perspective, the newly-appointed lead was “deserving” because of their tenure in the company, their performance in the position that they would become lead over, their education, the fact that they were more likely “lead material” than anyone else up for consideration, that they were the most compliant in former roles, etc. Nothing in that list suggests “leader,” and plenty in that list suggests serious obstacles that will need to be faced. (And that was why the lead person course was developed.)

While the organization’s criteria for promoting someone to lead person  may be suspect, they probably rarely if ever consider what it is about the lead position that’s attractive to the promote. What motivates the new lead person to say “yes” (assuming that they have the option to say no without penalty)?

Some answers: a bump in pay, it was the only promotional opportunity available, the positive feelings about being a leader, feeling they will have less work than they did in their former role, opening the possibility for future advancement, wanting to order people around, believing after years of being bossed around it would be fun to do the bossing, wanting to prove they can lead better than the person they are replacing. Again, none of these motivations correlate in any way to performing well as a lead person.

While I have focused on the lead person position, the question of motivation and its implications apply to any leadership position, regardless of how high up or how large the organization.

A lot about a person’s motivation can be summed up in how they see the leadership position: is it an opportunity to serve, or an opportunity to rule? Tomorrow, we will discuss the difference.

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About Tim James "Mr. Procedure"

A communicator; all-purpose capability in writing, designing and presenting training for all facets of organizational function. While my focus has been manufacturing, my training/development experience includes supervisory and lead person development, audit processes, continuous improvement and Lean, and Quality Management System implementation.
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