The Hidden Burden of Leadership

The baby steps on ‘being a leader’ I’m now taking have been interesting to say the least. With just under four years of formal leadership positions under my belt, I’m barely scratching the surface. But in the past few months, a hidden burden revealed itself to me.

A non-negotiable burden.

I love military history.

In my list of top three military generals, the great French emperor Napoleon Bonaparte ranks second, beaten only by Alexander. I have an artwork of Napoleon in my living room, with one of his greatest quotes providing the only words on it: “A leader is a dealer in hope.

I believe this laconic proclamation with all of my heart.

You see, ‘dealing in hope’ is not easy. But it is absolutely necessary. I understand the phrase to mean that a leader must be able to, despite circumstances and hardship, create a positive atmosphere wherever s/he is, and with whoever s/he is with. While I am still raw as leaders go, I’m willing to bet that this one burden sets the stage for all other leadership traits.

And what is this burden? I believe it’s the burden of staying hopeful. Unwaveringly hopeful.

What ‘being hopeful’ means.

First, I don’t believe it should be the wishy-washy type of hope. Our team members and fellow leaders will see right through blind hope. It not only destroys morale but, from my observations, breeds mistrust and loss of confidence. To deal in hope means having the conviction and experience to know that things will be okay, even when it seems like the world is ending.

Second, it’s a ‘burden’ simply because it requires so much energy and conscious effort from us in leadership positions. When the going gets tough and we are under our own pressures, we cannot afford to crack. When we are at the edge and no one knows what to do, we cannot afford to forget that we are in a position where our reactions can affect our teams’ future actions. To deal in hope requires us to be courageous and patient with ourselves first, and apply this attitude to our people and situations.

Third and last, it’s a huge responsibility. I’ve been told by graduating college students that ‘they want to be like me’; peers have asked me for ‘the secret sauce’ to keeping a positive attitude in an industry as challenging as mine (advertising) and earning the trust to be a leader. These conversations scare me, each and every time.

I realise that as leaders – especially younger ones – we are under both a spotlight and a microscope. The way we manage people and situations allow us an incredible platform to shine together with our teams, but these also mean that we are directly (or indirectly) affecting the happiness, morale, and culture of those who surround us. To deal in hope is to be acutely aware of the responsibility leadership demands of us.

And this is probably why, despite his personal failings, Napoleon still leads many of us to this day.

Hack Sheet:

  • Know the burden, and welcome it. Yes, it can be difficult. But it’s a huge opportunity to positively influence how others see, respond to, and learn from life’s challenges.
  • Be the leader we want to follow. It’s been said before, and it deserves repeating. I’m learning that a leader shouldn’t terrify, but instead create an atmosphere of calm and understanding.
  • Always be the last man standing. When everyone else is down, be the person who lifts them up. When bullets are flying and fires are everywhere, be the leader who picks up the flag and rallies the troops.

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