As we have proclaimed many times, the foundation for this concept called “The Privilege of Leadership” is based on being able to look at leadership from a positive perspective regardless of the difficulties and challenges that leadership opportunities present. With that in mind, we often ask in our workshops, is leadership a privilege, or is it a burden? Of course, we receive a variety of responses, with some proclaiming that it is a burden that comes with the position, others agreeing that it is indeed a privilege, and still others saying it’s both. Could it be both? Could we interpret the challenges we face as burdens?
When we then ask folks what they feel their greatest leadership challenge is, we receive a plethora of very unsettling leadership dilemmas such as keeping people motivated, negativity in the workforce, political influences, lack of support from above and/or below, safety concerns, disciplining subordinates, not having the self-confidence to do everything right, or the fear of failure, and the most troubling of all, Line of Duty Deaths (LODD). Indeed every leadership challenge gives us reason to be uncertain as to whether leadership is a privilege or a burden. And the truth is, no matter how much confidence and competence we have in our leadership abilities, all of us are often faced with various levels of uncertainty that challenge our ability to maintain the “Leadership is a Privilege” attitude.
So what should we do? The great wide receiver of the Arizona Cardinals, Larry Fitzgerald was once quoted as saying “I’m often under pressure at various points in my life…that pressure comes from a life that has led me to a point where I can apply my skills in a situation that actually matters. Pressure is a privilege.”
I truly believe there is some strategy for success in that philosophy. Every leadership challenge we are faced with gives us an opportunity to step back and look at the situation from a different perspective. In the fire service, we call this size-up and/or situational awareness. We often do not take advantage of that opportunity for a variety of reasons. Sometimes our own egos get in the way. Sometimes we feel we are being criticized too harshly by our peers, our superiors, or our subordinates. Sometimes we feel there is a lack of trust from others, whether real or perceived. Sometimes we are too overwhelmed by the issue that we fail to see it as an opportunity to learn while doing.
By learn, I don’t necessarily mean from a skill level, I mean learn to treat the situation as an experience that can be applied successfully to future challenges that may be even more difficult. Maybe to learn that we might be able to discover a higher purpose by being faced with an unwelcome a burden. As Larry says, “…Where I can apply my skills in a situation that really matters.”
In my next submission, Part II, I will discuss the uncomfortable feelings we may encounter and actions to overcome them. Until then, I would love to hear your feedback and thoughts.