The Cost of Leadership

Many professionals aspire to be a CEO, C-Suite executive, or a top leader within an organization because those roles have the opportunity to make an impact, drive strategy, approve decisions, and support the career aspirations of their staff. In full transparency, these were all reasons why I wanted to be a leader early in my career. I knew as a young professional that I wanted to make a difference through the work I was led to in my career.

While it’s rewarding to hold leadership positions, sometimes we can forget about the trade-offs or “costs” to leadership. Mentioning these trade-offs is not meant to be discouraging; it is simply a reminder that you should consider from the start of your professional journey.

Five Potential Costs of Being a Leader

Here are five things to consider when determining whether or not you want to aim for leadership positions:

  1. Work-life balance
    Everyone strives for work-life balance while few people can balance the two. When you take on a leadership role, you’ll work long hours and you won’t follow a typical 9 am to 5 pm schedule. A recent survey of 256 CEOs shows that on average, executives spend nearly 58 hours per week working.

  2. Relocating
    Another common “trade-off” that frequently comes with obtaining a leadership position is having to relocate to a new city, state, or even country for your job. This can be especially difficult if you have a family who is impacted by this change as well. Relocating can lead to a big growth step in your career, but it can also be risky as there are many unknowns. According to Harvard Business Review, relocating is more than just moving for your job; it’s an identity choice. It’s part of who you want to be and who you want to become.

  3. High Pressure 
    There’s inherently a lot of pressure and stress that comes along with being a leader. You might be the face of the company, in which case all of your successes (and failures) impact others in the organization. If you’re successful, there’s pressure to continue being successful. And when (not if) you fail, you’re most vulnerable to criticism. The stakes can be high, so it’s important to know how to operate under pressure. For some people, that’s not the healthiest lifestyle they’re interested in signing up for.

  4. Decision-making
    While having the freedom to make decisions in an organization is advantageous, it can also have its downsides. For instance, if you make an unfavorable or unpopular decision, it can be costly and impact your professional reputation. You’ll work with a team and other executives, but ultimately you’re the accountable one who makes and executes the decisions that impact many.

  5. Managing People
    While managing people is a perk of being a leader, it can also be exhaustive. You get to lead teams, inspire others, and implement organizational goals, however, you’re also responsible for poor performance, miscommunication, and disciplinary actions that ultimately impact the livelihood of others.

Five Skills Leaders Possess 

You should also consider the skills that one should possess or be willing to hone as a leader. If these are skills you don’t excel at or feel actively disengaged from, it may be a sign that leadership isn’t for you. 

Here are five skills that make leaders successful:

  1. Decisiveness
    Successful leaders make decisions earlier, faster, and with greater conviction, even amid ambiguity. According to Harvard Business Review, decisive people are twelve times more likely to be high-performing leaders.

  2. Adaptability
    Successful leaders are strategic. They understand long-term goals and adapt now for the future. Adapting to change is what sets the CEOs of McDonald’s, Netflix, and Apple apart.

  3. Communication
    Not only do leaders need to have good people skills, they also need to be excellent communicators. They must communicate regularly, openly, and clearly. They need to frequently assess when they are communicating too little or too much.

  4. Learning from failure
    Everyone experiences failure, but it’s how people handle failure that matters. Successful leaders look at failures as opportunities to learn and grow from their mistakes. Know that if you’re going to be a leader, you’re going to have to navigate failure.

  5. Transparency
    Successful leaders deliver honesty and provide clarity to instill trust; they honor confidentiality but don’t hide information from their employees. Leaders communicate what they plan to do and consistently align their words with their actions.

Know Your Goals and Values

Everyone is not meant to be a leader. And that’s OK! It doesn’t make you “less than” someone who holds a leadership position in any way. Your values and strengths may serve you to excel in a specialty role. In that case, be an incredible team player and a valuable mentor to your coworkers. Leadership isn’t necessarily the pinnacle of any career. Your career should be focused on your unique goals and values, and most importantly, what makes you thrive.