I recently heard a quote, shared by a colleague, from Kirby Smart, the Head Coach of the Georgia Bulldog’s football team.
He was holding a press conference, and he began by saying that there is a great deal of education and literature available in the area of leadership.
But he wanted to expose an area that he’s rarely seen written about.
The dark side of leadership. The human cost of being a leader.
He shared these three truths of the dark side that I thought were extremely valuable and thought provoking.
When you find yourself in a leadership role:
1 – You will have to make hard decisions that negatively affect people you care about
2 – You will be disliked despite your best attempt to do the best for the most
3 – You will be misunderstood and you won’t always be able to have a chance to explain yourself
Ultimately, leadership is a lonely place.
Those in leadership roles don’t always realize until they are stationed in such positions, or find themself being looked towards for leadership, that this dark side exists.
You can establish feedback mechanisms, opportunity for those you lead to provide insight and viewpoint, but ultimately you need to make the decisions that count.
I heard another quote from Pittsburgh Steeler Head Coach Mike Tomlin recently, when asked by a sideline reporter; who does he go to for trust and advice when adversity hits his locker room?
He said, “Increasingly over the years, No one. As long as I’ve been in this job and the longer that I continue to be in this job, I’ve learned that leadership is a lonely thing. People can make suggestions, but I make the decisions and I get compensated to tow the load.”
What I infer in this quote is a sense that he most likely does “hear” and “take” feedback and viewpoint, but ultimately, he has to make the decision based on a number of factors that not everyone in his circle of influence is privy to, or understands.
He has to make the decisions even though he knows not everyone will agree with him, or like what he decides. He has accepted that fate.
Ultimately, the great leaders surround themselves with good people they can trust to make good decisions on their behalf, but even good people make mistakes, or do the wrong thing at the wrong time, and it costs the organization or the team.
Real leadership means you don’t defer the responsibility, you take the responsibility. As Coach Tomlin says, you are likely being compensated for just that responsibility. But taking responsibility might also mean releasing or reprimanding someone who made a mistake.
Being in a leadership position doesn’t make it easy, or comfortable to have to reprimand or perhaps even fire someone you have come to trust and value because the situation calls for such a decision.
Ultimately we all hope that others respect us when we lead, but we also need to become clear that respect and being liked are not the same thing. You hope to be respected for how you carry yourself, how you take responsibility, and how you carry out your mission.
But not everyone will like you, or like your decisions.
As coach Smart so eloquently acknowledges in his third observation, you won’t always get a chance to explain yourself.
It takes time, requires context and often a large amount of “data” to clearly understand or explain a decision, and most leaders don’t get the time or opportunity to share this information.
In many instances, even if they were granted the time and attention, they could not reveal certain facts as such revelation might cause harm or be misconstrued.
Better sometimes to just grin and bear it.
Leadership is not for the faint of heart, and it requires a thick skin. Leadership is hard.
When you decide to rise to the responsibility of leadership, recognize there will be much reward, but there will be equal or greater discomfort.
Leadership has its privileges, and its pain.