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Why is leadership hard?

One of the biggest complaints I have heard throughout the years from people I have led or coached is that leading people is hard. To which I often say, and only sometimes out loud, "No kidding!"

The number one complaint, or realization, my coaching clients have, as we get into coaching, is how hard leadership is; specifically how much effort it takes to be conscious of their personal impact on others and to be conscious of the needs of those they lead. I exercise a great deal of self-control when I don’t laugh in their face. I have been known to say “what the heck did you think it would be like?” but I don’t laugh in their face. Often times I find myself reminding them of the hard truth - If you are only focused on the bottom line and you’re not worried about the morale of your people, you're in the wrong bleeping line of work. After all, leadership is about the leading of - dot, dot, dot - people! When you are being promoted to a leadership role you are moving from an individual sport to a team sport. And if your basic premise is that people are difficult and it takes too much effort to lead them then move to the mountains and start a blog because you should only be working by yourself. Human emotion is complex and many people like to stay away from it for that reason.

In addition to high IQs, really long-term successful leaders also have equally high EQs. When most people try to evolve their leadership style and try to create a more positive impact on the people they lead, they quickly realize that it’s going to be about emotions - what makes people do, or not do, the things that you need them to do. Many people are flummoxed by that. It makes them uncomfortable and it feels like heavy work. It’s akin to going to therapy. If you’ve never been to therapy you might not know that often times it feels like you’ve just done an eight hour workout. It’s heavy lifting for the mind but you feel it throughout your body. If you have an intense dialogue or an argument with your significant other or a close family member, you can feel very drained afterwards. This is because being really dialled-in and listening at a level three (sorry, coaching term) from an emotional perspective, can feel like hard work. And that is effective leadership. Can you lead without a developed EQ? Yes! Will your leadership implode at some point? Most likely. Remember, we are talking about effective leadership, not just leadership.

Having the ability to tune-in to and understand what drives people and what demotivates people, without getting lost in emotion, is where powerful leadership lies. And understanding that is your ticket to success. We have this notion that at work, and even in life but particularly at work, if you ask someone to do something, it should be done. You're paying them after all. That's like believing your children will do what you tell them because, well, you're the parent. Have you ever parented a 4-year-old, a 16-year-old? People should do as they are told, what they are paid to do! We think that this is the way the world should work and that’s great…in a book. In real life, people are motivated and demotivated; they are engaged and they are disengaged; they are aligned and they are misaligned. As a leader, no matter your level in the organization, it’s your job to figure out WHY things are or are not happening AND WHAT YOUR LEADERSHIP NEEDS TO BRING TO THE TABLE TO GET THINGS ON TRACK! and that takes mental energy. There is no textbook for it. It’s not a ledger; it’s not an accounting process; it’s not the law. It’s thoughtfulness and it’s trial and error and it’s connecting with, and understanding, individuals. It can be exhausting and it can be daunting, but that my friends, is effective leadership.


Michele Ferrari is a certified executive coach (CPCC) with over 20 years of experience and a passionate believer in the true impact of values-based leadership. Michele is available to organizations looking for an executive coach and/or team facilitator. She is also available for media interviews and as an expert source for stories related to leadership, organizational transformation, business strategy, executive and career coaching and self-improvement. Please contact Melissa Morra for more information.


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