Several years ago I worked with a group of senior leaders at a large construction company. We were having a lively conversation about leadership when someone asked me, “Hey, Vince, what is leadership?” I said, “Leadership is a decision.” It was the very first time I had said those words out loud. It was an intuitive response in the moment. But right away Earl, one of the participants, snapped, “Well, I never got to make that decision!”
Earl was the senior vice president of engineering services. He had started his career as an engineer, but the organization soon offered him a supervisory role and a series of promotions. Earl said that he accepted each of these promotions without thinking about whether he truly wanted a new role or whether he was really ready to commit to it.
I looked around the room. Everyone was listening intently. It seemed like Earl's story was striking a chord with the other leaders.
Earl explained that he thought taking on those leadership roles was the logical thing to do. From a practical perspective, it was the only way he could make more money and get more prestige within the company. But he said that every time he took on a more senior leadership role, he moved further and further away from what he really loved to do: engineering.
I have told Earl's story many times, and I have been surprised by how many leaders say they've done the same thing.
Although making more money, expanding your skills, and having more ...