How To Know If You're In The Right Leadership Position

Leadership is a life long experience and at times it can be difficult to figure out if you’re in the right spot. Sometimes you may feel underwhelmed, or maybe you feel over loaded. Then again, maybe your just stuck.

Finding the right (and timely) leadership position can keep you on a sustainable path; failing to do so will inevitably lead to burnout or boredom.

Failing to find the right leadership position will lead to burnout or boredom.
— StevenJBarker

I recently bought my first motorcycle and it’s as if driving is new again. Things that I had long since taken for granted are fresh and interesting. What had become just another metal box flying down the highway next to me now has become a potential deadly obstacle. Smells and sounds that I had never really experienced in my car are now a vivid multi sensory experience. Driving has become raw and invigorating. 

For many of us, if leadership is going to be sustainable it needs to feel just raw enough and invigorating enough to keep us in the game. 

So how do you know you’re in the right leadership position? 

Don’t Outdrive Your Headlight

To stay engaged in your leadership role you need to stay at the edge of your capacity.

When you drive a vehicle at night for example, you really can only drive as fast as your eye can see. If you begin to outdrive your headlights you won’t have the time to react to any obstacles you may encounter. 

The same is true of leadership. It can be tempting to “bite off more than you can chew” but in reality, you really just want to bite off enough that’s somewhat difficult to chew. You want to take on enough responsibility that the work is challenging but not so much that you’re floundering. 

And to clarify, when I say take on responsibility I mean taking ownership for delivering results. If that means you’re starting something new, you’re taking on the responsibility to make that new “thing” a success. If you’re taking over an existing team, that means taking ownership of that team’s continued success and growth. 

Push yourself to the edge of your capacity. Keep yourself just uncomfortable enough that you have no choice but to keep learning. As you learn more you upgrade your leadership headlight and subsequently you can see further and further down the path. 

Keep Your Tank Full

At the same time you’re pushing forward, you’ve got to keep your gas thank full. Do you know what fills your tank? Is it your family relationships? Is it time with “safe” friends? (Do you still have those?) Do you have a hobby? Are you taking days off, just for you? 

Keeping your tank full is incredibly important. 

Schedule that time, invest in yourself. You’re no good to anyone else if you aren’t taking care of you. 

Watch Your Gauges

Then keep an eye on your gauges. Thing of it like this: leadership is supposed to hurt your head a little. It’s supposed to be challenging enough that it makes you think hard enough to make you feel a little tired at the end of the day. Your leadership pain gauge has three colors, you want to spend most of your time in the yellow zone. 

Green: If you’re to relaxed, eventually you’ll find yourself getting bored and tired of dealing with frivolous issues. You won’t have enough skin in the game to push through because your “purpose” engine won’t be burning hot enough. 

Red: If you find yourself maxed out, where you’re overly stressed about keeping all the plates spinning, you’ll certainly get yourself in trouble. No one can operate at that speed for a sustainable length of time. Back off a little, ask for help. Ask your team for assistance (or form a team if you don’t have one). Find someone on your team that’s currently leading in the green zone and ask them to take some of the load. 

Yellow: This is the sweet spot. It means you’re working hard enough your head hurts a little. You’re paying attention to what’s going on. You'll find yourself reading more, asking better questions and pushing toward audacious but attainable goals. 

You’re in the right leadership position when your brain hurts a little.
— StevenJBarker

Finding the right leadership positions means you’re regularly evaluating your current role and responsibilities. Take some time today to ask yourself these questions (and schedule at time to do it again in three months). 

  1. Am I driving faster than my headlights? 
  2. Is my tank getting close to empty? 
  3. Which zone is my leadership pain gauge in?  

And if you’ve got the guts, talk to your boss or board about it….I'm willing to bet you have common goals. Every organization is stronger when everyone is running at top performance. 

Question of the day: What are your answers to the three questions?