This time of year, Toastmaster districts are looking to recruit area governors for the new term starting July 1. So, I’ve been receiving a lot of visits to my article “Why You Should Be an Area Governor.” I’ve learned a lot about leadership in the 14 years since then, including lessons from a 2-year term as a Little League president. I have some advice to add for anyone who seeks to become an area governor, a Little League president, or any kind of leader. Before you step up, you need to ask yourself a few questions.
1. Why do you want to become a leader?
Perhaps you believe you have something to offer. Perhaps you are frustrated by the way things are being run and feel you can do better. Perhaps you need to lead simply because you have to. (It may the only way you can get ahead in your job, or the team has no one else to take the role.) Perhaps it’s because you want to boost your standing in the organization and have people look up to you. Whatever your reasons, make sure that you are honest to yourself about them and know exactly what they are. That’s because each reason, no matter how altruistic, has its problems. By being clear about why you want to be a leader, you have a perspective to help you address those problems.
2. What are you willing to sacrifice to take the role?
Being a leader requires sacrifices on your part. It certainly requires a great commitment of your time. You will also have to set aside your personal ambitions, trade the day-to-day work you excel in for administrative tasks and extra meetings, and lose the protection that comes with being part of the rank and file. You may even need to dig into your pocket once in a while to pay for needed expenses and for gifts to thank your team. Make sure you know what sacrifices are expected of you and be willing and prepared to make them.
3. Can you resist the temptation to misuse your power?
Power corrupts because there are so many temptations to misuse it — especially when the reasons seem justifiable. If your friend needed extra time off but exceeded his vacation hours, would you bend the rules to help him? If your child was going to be left off the All Star team, would you use your position to get him added? Understand that any misuse of power, no matter how right the reasons seem to you, undermines your leadership and eventually hurts the people you think you’re helping. If you decide to be a leader, commit yourself to not abusing your position, no matter how tempting it may be.
4. Can you take criticism?
The minute you make a decision, someone will be opposed to it. Saying yes to one thing means saying no to something that somebody wanted. Often, the opposition may be justified because you made the wrong decision. But the only thing worse than making the wrong decision is not making one at all. This is why you have to learn to take criticism. If you’re afraid to be criticized, you’ll also be afraid to make decisions and take action. You’ll also miss out on important information that will help you make better decisions in the future.
5. Can you trust others to do their jobs?
Leaders must delegate, but true delegation requires you to give control to the people who will do the work. Some leaders refuse to do this, which turns them into micromanagers who hover over their employees. This destroys morale and turns the leader into a bottleneck that prevents the work from getting done. If you delegate, trust the people you assign work to and let them do their job. If you don’t have anyone you can trust, do the work yourself or find someone you can trust to do it.
6. Can you give credit and take blame?
Unfortunately, some leaders are good at taking credit and giving blame. Like micromanagement, this destroys morale and undermines your reputation as a leader. If you recognize your people for their great work and shield them from attack, it builds morale and makes you more effective. People will want to work for you if they can trust you to recognize their hard work and protect them from unfair criticism.
When employees make a mistake, you should be the one take the responsibility for the error. You can then correct the employees in the comfort of your own team. Exposing them to the heat from higher-ups only humiliates them while making you look like less of a leader — and a human being.
7. Can you let go when the time comes?
The day will come when you have to let go of the reins, either because your term of office ends, you get promoted, you move on to something else, or you die. Great leaders know how to let go and to make sure that the organization can go on without them. They train people and give them the confidence to do their work. They share leadership so that others can develop those skills. More importantly, great leaders set an example that others are willing to follow. The true test of your leadership isn’t what you accomplish during your time at the helm, but what you’ve helped others to achieve after you’re gone.