Time and again, I’ve learned a painful lesson: don’t fall in love with your own authority.
For example, here’s what I wrote last year in an article about the value of initiative:
I was was 18 and dragging a coil of electrical cable across a stage. The 2,000-seat college theater was empty, except for a handful of minimum wage stage crew like myself and the stage manager, who ran the whole place. I put the coil in the pile, and waited for him to tell me what to do next.
When the stage manager noticed me waiting for instructions, he didn’t give me the instructions I expected.
“With a little more initiative, Bruce, you could be a crew chief. Instead of standing around waiting for me to tell you what to do, figure out what needs to be done and do it.”
What I didn’t write about was how, as a crew chief, I became an obnoxious jerk to my friends on the crew.
Yes, I learned to take the initiative. I earned a management position at a young age. But I wasn’t a leader. I led because others were told to follow me, not because they wanted to follow me.
For years, I’ve been obsessed with the power of initiative. Only now am I starting to realize that is too low a bar.
Too often, initiative revolves around personal goals. Take the initiative and you’ll get promoted… or get a raise.
But being focused on initiative doesn’t teach you how to be a leader. It doesn’t give you the quiet confidence necessary to help lead a large group out of a tough situation.
The difference comes down to just a few words. Once again, here’s what I recall Lew telling me, “Instead of standing around waiting for me to tell you what to do, figure out what needs to be done and do it.”
Here’s what I wish he told me,
Instead of standing around waiting for me to tell you what to do, figure out what the crew needs to accomplish and help them do it.
Helping the crew is not the same thing as bossing the crew around.
True leadership is about helping people accomplish more than they thought possible. It is about elevating a group’s needs over your needs. It is about putting ego last, instead of first.
Most people in positions of authority are managers, not leaders. They relish the authority more than the responsibility. They want the glory of being in charge, the money, and the way it makes them feel: powerful and successful.
True leadership is not just about accepting responsibility; it’s about being more motivated by responsibility than authority. This is a critical difference! During a job interview early in my career, an executive asked me whether I wanted authority or responsibility. I was no dolt; I answered “responsibility,” because I knew that was the right answer.
But I didn’t know that what matters is which one of these motivates you. If the power, money and success is secondary to getting a job done well, you have the potential to be a true leader.
This article is published in collaboration with LinkedIn. Publication does not imply endorsement of views by the World Economic Forum.
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Author: Bruce Kasanoff is a ghostwriter for entrepreneurs.
Image: A businessman walks through the Tokyo International Forum in a banking district in central Tokyo. REUTERS/Thomas Peter