Leadership FAQ: Why Say No?

As a counter to Leadership FAQ: Why? I present some reasons to not take on a leadership role.

I was recently on a panel for graduate students to discuss optional careers beyond the traditional academic path. I was there to represent the administrative choice and, in preparation, I thought about the reasons one might chose to take on a leadership role.  I wasn’t asked that question, so I get to answer it here.

For the state of context, I’m considering leadership roles that would be the equivalent of 25% or higher appointment for a year or more.

You might not want to take on that role if:

  1. You don’t have the appropriate leadership skills. Most people don’t think they do have the skills. However, I’m thinking of the situation where an opportunity comes up, you start considering it, and then you talk to your friends about it and they indicate that you might not a good fit for it. You can grow into a position, but if the key requirements of the position don’t match your strengths, you might consider passing on this opportunity.
  2. You think that what works well for you, works because of you. Leadership, on some level, requires that you thinking that the ideas you have are relevant for other folks. If you find yourself not sharing ideas or not thinking that others would benefit from what you do, then moving to leadership might not be for you.
  3. You like your privacy. Leadership almost always requires a certain public element. You may not have to be at the level of giving public speeches, but you will likely be viewed as being representative of whatever group you are leading. Your public actions may be viewed differently as people try to read you and your preferences.
  4. You like or need time for your research, scholarship or creative activity. It is not always the case that you have to give up your time in this area when you take on a leadership role, but it can be much more difficult to make such activities a regular part of your schedule. For example, if you are used to having the summer months to travel for research purposes, a 12-month administrative role might not work for you. In any case, a leadership role will almost always decrease (or change) your productivity.
  5. You like your private time or least some reasonable control over your time. Depending on the level of leadership, your activities will be driven by the demands of others, whether it is a scheduled meeting, or it an urgent email. In some cases you can schedule your own time, but often circumstances will trump your plans.

None of these are necessarily deal-breakers for taking on a leadership role, but are at least some things to consider or to include as part of your negotiations as you take on such a role.


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