There is clearly no shortage of literature, training programs, degrees, and other efforts specializing in leadership development. There is also no shortage of professionals offering to develop and coach leaders, including yours truly. However, professionals typically go through these development experiences after they are appointed to leadership roles. Leaders are, hence, chosen but to what extent does each leader get to make the conscious decision to become a leader and keep climbing the ranks?

Since students wouldn’t go into undergraduate programs to specialize in leadership, a systemic approach to treat leadership as a career choice similar to major professions doesn’t really exist. Rather, a leadership role is generally perceived as an opportunity for advancement and who in their right mind would say NO to that? In many cases, this opportunity is offered due to the success of the selected leader in a technical role or maybe a smaller or very different leadership role. Of course, it’s highly unlikely that we’ll start saying no to promotions. But approaching the decision to take a leadership role like a typical career choice can be very helpful for effectively selecting and even developing leaders. This boils down to two simple questions:

As to the first question, each leadership role may require a unique profile. But there are certain capabilities that are simply required for success regardless of the size of the organization, team, or program. These basically enable a leader to define the destination, design the path, and bring people along for the journey:

As for the second question, it is probably more critical that leaders are fulfilled than it is for them to exactly fit into the role profiles. Developing some of the desired capabilities is less challenging than becoming effective while being unfulfilled and constantly struggling with personnel, financial, and competitive pressures. In addition to being results-oriented, highly successful leaders share personal characteristics that bring personal joy to their experiences:

Leaders who possess these attributes will typically find fulfillment in their leadership roles and create positive and fulfilling environments for their teams and organizations. Approaching leadership as a means to an end, or the surest way to get to the top of organizations and simply make more money is the most ineffective way to lead. Raising the two simple career choice questions about what it takes to lead and what’s in it for the leader is not just critical for making mutually satisfactory decisions about selecting leaders. It also offers a framework for developing leadership talent across a wide range of experience and expertise.