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Do you give only after you get?

In my travels around the world, I have frequently seen a troubling dynamic among aspiring leaders, those who demand to get something before they give their all to a leadership role.

To explain, let me give you two different scenarios.

Carl has long dreamed of taking on a senior leadership role in his company. However, as he waits for his big promotion, he is more or less in a holding pattern. Carl understands that he could be already demonstrating some of the qualities of an effective leader. He could be motivating and supporting his colleagues; he could be stepping up to take on more responsibility, offering to support new projects, or more freely giving his point of view on key priorities of his team. He could work harder and longer and really project the image of the leader he wants to eventually become.

Instead, Carl just sits and waits for the promotion he is sure is coming. He’s been overheard telling his co-workers that he’ll “really step up when I get that promotion. In the meantime, I’ll just keep my head down.”

On the flip side of this equation is Mona. Like Carl, she is also poised and excited about the possibility of a promotion that she believes she has earned. However, as she awaits her chance to lead, she takes a much different approach to her job.

After deciding that she really wants to lead, Mona begins to exude the attitude of a senior leader – well before she gets an official promotion.

For Mona, a promotion is not about a title or perks; it’s about how she interacts with her co-workers, and whether she can inspire confidence in others. Mona believes that if she is already demonstrating the attitude and behaviors of an effective and accountable leader, she’s got a much better chance of getting a promotion. Mona knows that leaders-in-waiting should not wait, but perform like leaders.

Which of these two leaders would you promote?

When I’ve presented this scenario to others, not surprisingly, Mona gets the nod pretty much every time. Unlike Carl, Mona is not treating a leadership opportunity as an entitlement. She understands that leadership is hard work and she is taking every opportunity to demonstrate that she’s up to that challenge.

On the other hand, Carl projects an attitude that he’s “owed” something from the organization before he will really step up and perform like a leader.

I’ve also learned, as a leader myself, that people who feel they have to wait until they get something to really give of themselves tend to be weak leaders when and if they get a promotion. Our attitude about work,  as we wait for promotions,  often reveals the kind of leaders we will be later on in our careers. Those who hold back, in my experience, often do not rise very high in their organizations.

What about you? Are you an individual who brings a sense of entitlement to your leadership role? Do you feel that your organization “owes” you something before you really step up and deliver?

If you answered yes to either of those questions, you might want to take stock of your career path. I believe there is a price to be paid for holding back on your level of effort until you get something specific in return. Leaders lead, regardless of title, promotion or position.

Do you give only after you get?

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