The Burden of Leadership -To Sink or Stay afloat

“Leadership involves the heavy burden of responsibility and the fear of getting it wrong can paralyze a leader” John C Maxwell

This is perhaps my first ever post on the subject of leadership. For some inexplicable reasons, I cannot point to exactly why I saved discussions about the burden of leadership till a year after I started writing again.

And yes! It’s been 12 months of non-stop writing just about anything that catches my fancy. I find it liberating and somewhat fulfilling after every post. Decades ago when I wrote short stories for my secondary school colleagues to feast one, it was carefully scripted in a hardcover notebook with an ink pen. Countless hours of scribbling my thoughts neatly in between academic hours and night preps could only be repaid by the soul-invigorating comments from those who cared to read them.

My handwriting had to be legible enough to keep my friends interested in my thoughts and vivid imaginations. But the twist and turns of the stories on each page was enough to keep them glued till the end with every page flipped on with the primeval urgency to catch up on fleeting suspense.

That was almost 25 years ago!

Writing felt strange when I first started out again in 2019. Decades sped by without notice as I stared down at my laptop wondering how to restart a passion I buried in years of blistering and interesting professional career.

One year into the blogging business and it feels as though I only just started a few weeks ago. That my friend, is how it feels when you are passionate about a hobby.

Back to the burden of leadership, the picture below depicts how I always felt about myself leading others for many years –like a superhero

But now, after so many years, I have taken a well deserved break from leadership roles(well except a few).

Sounds out of sort innit?

To be honest, it wasn’t so much of a tough decision to make. For most of my teenage and early adult life, I hopped from one leadership position to the other. Taking on multiple roles at a time and stretching my capacity thin and threadbare.

In a few of those roles, I won the votes of the majority with aplomb, while a good many were selective roles that I earned without much competition. As the vestiges of leadership flowed through my veins, I led a modest number of my peers in social groups, school alumni, religious youth societies, business class, career groups and lots of other short term committees. And for many years, I wore the toga of responsibility to these group of friends and colleagues consistently like a badge until I burned out.

I literally ran out of juice!

After many decades, leadership became a burden. A burden that demanded time, energy, respect, vision, aspiration, social appearances, and setbacks on a daily basis.

And with it my leadership style morphed from being democratic to autocratic without apologies. My patience wore out till it was threadbare and irritation danced around my conversation with team mates like spittle. Ever present!

I dragged myself through the motions believing I was only going through a phase and would snap out of it with time. But weeks turned into months and I had to talk myself into accepting the obvious fact that I just needed to find some peace-my peace. To revel in my own company and to just love myself. If only for a short while.

I started to wonder how it felt like to be an ex-officio or a follower. It was an unattractive prospect at first, but I soon warmed up to the idea- that I could easily melt into the crowd and become an extremely passive follower.

I just needed to take a break. A break from providing direction, putting up appearances even in the worst of situations and keeping up consistently with the values I held so dear. A break from taking the long walk down the dark alley where beyond lies a vision few agree exist. A break from staying in the spotlight and being the subject of criticism. A break from leading people who didn’t even need to be led. A break from generating high energy to be passed on into team and groups. A break nonetheless!

That decision wasn’t difficult. It was expedient at the time and maybe even selfish. But I figured that everyone already owes me some “selfishness” after all these years of giving myself away for the leadership journey!

In retrospect, I soon realized that in the early years of my leadership journey, I read countless books, attended conferences and kept a fairly disciplined self-development routine. I stuffed my brain with new information every other week. I was obsessed with getting ahead of the pack by acquiring knowledge relevant to my journey. I learned so much about myself. I oozed of self-confidence and was unabashed in my assertiveness and decision making. And ofcourse it paid off. It made decision making flawless and perception about life a whole lot different from yesteryears.

But at some point I stopped the routine, it was becoming a needless task competing for time with other activities as new roles emerged and responsibilities tripled. And so, it felt as though I ran out of steam. Exhausted, exasperated and empty, I sought to rebase myself. It was the only way I could prepare myself for the next level of leadership roles ahead of me. Roles that would demand even more from me.

With the benefit of hindsight, I sometimes ask myself what sort of leader I was these past decades?
I am not quite sure I ‘ve got the answer to that question. When leading a team, sometimes the situations call for the sort of leadership style that you will deploy to get results. Not everyone will agree with you and a good many who appear neutral will find their voice once your gamble doesn’t pay off. The burden of leadership becomes lighter once you can look beyond the naysayers and focus on a clear plan, a distinct vision.

One vital lesson I learned is that a leader without a vision would be tossed about like a rudderless ship in a violent storm. That vision based on a well-defined and well-thought through process is the guiding light that keeps every leader on course. Every action, decision and resolution must be ultimately geared towards achieving that vision. Which is why it must be carefully articulated and not presented as some lame rhetoric’s designed to win votes.

Because there is a leader for different seasons and situations, I have categorized the different leadership styles that most leaders often fall into. I am sure you know someone who embodies one or more of these styles. Let’s delve into the six leadership styles.

Democratic Leadership“What do you think?”
This type of leader gives everyone an equal say on a project and lets the group come to consensus about how to proceed. While the leader may still be ultimately accountable, everyone gets equal input, regardless of title or rank. Decisions are made as a group and the leader acts as a guide to ensure everything stays on track.

Team mates often enjoy a democratic leader because they feel their opinions and thoughts carry weight within the group. It fosters a true sense of collaboration.

Autocratic Leadership “Do as I say”
Autocratic leadership can be considered the antithesis to the democratic leadership. The leader maintains and exerts all the power, having complete control and asking for no input. The autocratic leader will create the idea, the strategy, the timeframe and expect the rest of the team to execute these orders. There is no room for collaboration or opinion. Because of that, it’s a very unpopular leadership style that can likely lead to high turnover and increased dispute amongst the group. It’s effective in turnaround situations or disasters but it inhibits flexibility and dampens motivation of the team mates and sense of responsibility and so stops the flow of ideas.

Authoritative Leaders“Come with me/follow me”
Authoritative leaders mobilize people towards a vision. This is the “Come with me” approach. It’s about stating the overall goal and vision but giving team mates the freedom to choose how to get there and achieve the goals. This style is not effective when experts are more experienced than the leader.

Authoritative leadership works well when a business is adrift and maximizes commitment as team mates know and understand what needs to be done and why.

Affiliative Style“People come first”
Affiliative leaders create emotional bonds and harmony. This is the “People come first” approach. This style is about building team harmony or increasing morale and motivation, it all revolves around people as individuals and their emotions over tasks and goals. This style has an exclusive focus on praise and less on giving constructive advice or feedback and so when this happens too much, poor performance might go uncorrected and lack of clear direction to tackle challenges may not be provided. On the positive site, this styles leads to fierce loyalty and trust and a huge flow of sharing ideas, inspiration and flexibility.

Coach-Style Leadership“Consider this/Try this”
The leader who coaches tends to put emphasis on the growth and development of the team. Coaching leaders develop people for the future. This leader looks for strengths of each team member and finds ways to maximize those strengths for the group’s benefit.

The focus lies more on personal development than on immediate work-related tasks and the leader acts more like a counsellor than a boss who helps employees identify their unique strengths and weaknesses and tie them to their personal and career aspirations with long-term objectives and development plans. This style works well when team mates already know their weaknesses and want to improve but not when they are resistant to change because it might result in short-term failure while waiting for the long-term learning and results.

Pacesetting Leaders“Do as I do”
Pacesetting leaders expect excellence and self-direction. This is the “Do as I do, now!” approach. The leader sets high performance standards and exemplifies them himself; there’s an obsession with doing things better and faster, quickly pinpointing poor performance and demanding more and becoming a micromanager. This style works well with team mates who are self-motivated and highly competent and don’t need lots of guidance on how things should be done to get them done on time or ahead of schedule. But others feel overwhelmed by the demands for excellence and so morale, responsibility and commitment drop.

Check yourself – what sort of leader are you?

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