Lean OUT- What it Means to be a NON-Leader

13 02 2016

Leadership“I knew that I could only be happy if I was in charge.”


At a recent Women in Business Retreat, I listened to amazing women share inspiring stories about how they overcame failure, started up new businesses with only $33 left in their bank account, brought sexual harassers to justice, and grew into CEOs of billion dollar corporations.


bookInspirational? Undeniably.


Relatable? Not so much.


Society tells us that these women are WINNERS. They are the very definition of SUCCESS. As much as we all may think we want to be that successful, when it comes right down to it, we are not all leaders. For some of us, in fact, being the president of a company would be our worst nightmare. All the responsibility. All the stress. All the blame. And, yes, all the glory.


We have fought for generations to break those glass ceilings. Studies show that women are proven to be more effective leaders, because of our differences in communication, and yet we still only hold 17% of the leadership positions in this country. All true, and important, right?


The subliminal messaging out there to women is this: If YOU don’t get out there and climb that corporate ladder, you are failing womankind, and dooming the next generation of girls because they won’t have enough role models of women in power.


Now, I absolutely agree that some women have innately superior leadership skills than their male peers. Yes, I am always proud when I see women heading up companies and doing a damn good job of it. And OF COURSE I want to see a female president. But just because women are still fighting for equal rights doesn’t mean that we ALL should be vying for the corner office.


Why Don’t You Want to be a Leader??

Fotolia_17117162_XS_f_improf_254x292We all define success differently. Sure, when I was a little kid, I wanted to be a movie star. I wanted to be that person you read about or see being interviewed because they have done something so awesome that society deems them newsworthy. I excelled in school, getting excellent grades, winning scholarships. After being vice president of Earth Club as a sophomore in high school, the next year I became president, because… there’s nowhere else to go but up, right?


I took on leadership roles, because that’s what you are supposed to do. I studied psychology and loved learning about all the different personality types and how those innate characteristics influence the ways in which we communicate with each other. I learned about effective leadership skills, and have been trained on how to be a good manager. I never asked for a promotion, but was given them.


In 2012, I was working for a company with layers upon layers of middle management, in an office led by a narcissistic chauvinist who took pleasure in smiling while he insulted you. Just 6 months after being hired, my direct supervisor approached me to offer me a promotion to Outreach Manager. I would have additional responsibilities for a team of seven, with more goals to meet and reports to write. There would be a 10% pay increase, and I would, of course, be expected to work more hours and set a ‘standard’ for work ethic. I told him I would think about it and let him know. He looked at me with utter confusion, “Don’t you want to be a manager? Don’t you love mentoring other people?” He was handing me a golden ticket and I responded with maybe.

6a00d83451c07669e201287768714e970c(Image credit here)

I looked at the hierarchy of our company, and remember thinking, “No, I don’t want to climb this ladder. I don’t want to be the one to get berated at meetings by the dictator in charge. I don’t want to fill your position when you get promoted. I don’t want any of this.” But I took the promotion. I managed the heck out of that team. I met all my goals and dealt eloquently with underperforming team members, working hard to mentor them and train them for future success. I strove to be the best boss I could be, and to shelter my team from the toxic work environment that we were in.


6_easy_tips_for_climbing_the_corporate_ladder_like_a_champ_655_1384507817Every day, I came home and walked in the door completely drained. I hated my job. It’s not that I don’t love mentoring other people- especially younger women. I’ll tell every single woman I meet to never accept her first job offer, to know her value and negotiate her salary. I have spent a lot of time learning and sharing the secrets of how to effectively communicate with different types of men in order to succeed. I want my peers to be ready to climb that ladder, but I just prefer the view from down here.


What Does it Mean to NOT Want to be the Leader?

I’ll tell you what it doesn’t mean.

It does not mean you are brainwashed by society.

It doesn’t mean you simply can’t envision a woman doing it.

It does not mean you are lazy or don’t believe in yourself.

It doesn’t mean you’re settling.


I now have a job that I LOVE. I travel the state and get to tour all sorts of cool factories. I’m constantly learning interesting new things! I’m interacting with people at all levels of a company. I know how to talk to C suite executives, and I do it quite well.


In 2015 I was approached by my boss to apply for a brand new, manager position. It’s basically the same job I have, plus managing a few other folks. I applied for it, and got the promotion, along with a 4% pay increase. I’m not going to say no to a raise, but there’s pretty much nowhere else for me to go in this position… and I like that. I don’t want to be the director, because that means that all the fun stuff that I love so much would disappear, replaced by forecasting and spreadsheets and meeting after meeting after meeting. I don’t want that job. And that’s okay.

For those of us who know that we don’t want to be the leader, defining success is a bit trickier. I know that I love my job, but I also love my family, my health, my hobbies, and my friends. I think that having a work-life balance IS success. I don’t need a new job title, or a fancy promotion, though they trigger lovely ‘congratulations’ from friends and family. I could do this job for the rest of my career, and as long as I’m still enjoying it, I am a success. That doesn’t mean I’m lazy. It means I’m intentional. And happy!!



One response

13 02 2016



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