In St Louis in September, I participated in a roundtable discussion on leadership development where Rick Sessoms of MentorLink made a great observation: If you give leadership training to someone who lacks character, you’re enabling their abuse of power. Training won’t fix heart issues; it will simply give better tools to someone who lacks integrity, making them better at their abuses.

Patrick Lencioni says some of the same kinds of things in his cautionary blog post, Not Everyone Should Lead. Here’s an excerpt:

Whenever I hear someone encourage all young people to become leaders, or better yet, when I hear a young person say glibly that he or she wants to be a leader someday, I feel compelled to ask the question “why?”

If the answer is “because I want to make a difference” or “I want to change the world,” I get a little skeptical and have to ask a follow-up question: “Why and in what way do you want to change the world?” If they struggle to answer that question, I discourage them from becoming a leader.

Why? Because a leader who doesn’t know why he or she wants to lead is almost always motivated by self-interest. Whether that manifests itself in terms of fame or money or power, it is a very dangerous thing.

Leaders need to recognize the requirements of leadership: people marked by humility, maturity, selflessness and vision and willing to bear the costs of loneliness, sacrifice and great personal risk.

For all emerging leaders reading this, I’ll close with Steven Sample’s challenge from The Contrarian’s Guide to Leadership: Are you more interested in being the position or doing the position?

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