“If you want to make everybody happy, don’t be a leader. Sell ice cream.”
Not sure who said that first. But I love the quote.
Because it reminds me that leadership is not all sweetness and light.
In my experience, leadership can be hard, gritty, messy, painful work.
Especially in the workplace.
Indeed, anyone who has ever done budgeting during hard times, been involved in closing an operation, or helped make a big organizational pivot, knows that leadership is not all sweetness and light.
Anyone who has had to pick between two good candidates for a promotion – or let someone go – knows that leadership is not all sweetness and light.
Anyone who has stood up in a meeting and said, “hey, this is not the right thing to do,” knows that leadership is not all sweetness and light.
Especially servant leadership.
In the workplace context, servant-leaders make tough decisions – including tough people decisions – disappoint people and even make enemies.**
Harvard faculty member Marty Linsky goes so far as to say that disappointment is an essence of leadership:
“Leadership is about disappointing your own people at a rate they can absorb.”**
Wow. Nothing sugary or bright there.
Former U.S. first lady Rosalynn Carter makes a related point:
“A leader takes people where they want to go. A great leader takes people where they don’t necessarily want to go, but ought to be.”
I firmly believe that leadership is not always easy. Aspiring leaders should not expect it to be. And they should not set out hoping to make everybody happy.
If you want to make everybody happy, you know what to do . . .
What do you think? Do you like the quote? Do you share my belief that leadership is not all sweetness and light?
Let us know.
As always, we appreciate your views.
And don’t forget to download our latest ebook, Servant Leadership in the Workplace: A Brief Introduction. It’s free!
* Yep, you heard that right – enemies. Check out this post for more on why: “Servant-Leaders Make Enemies”
** The quote comes from an oldie-but-goodie: Ron Heifetz & Marty Linsky, Leadership on the Line: Staying Alive Through the Dangers of Leading (Boston: Harvard 2002).
In this book, Heifetz and Linsky focus more on transformational leadership than servant leadership per se, but those leadership approaches overlap. In any event, a highly recommended read for aspiring servant-leaders in the workplace.