“You can’t put a square peg in a round hole.” That’s an old adage that dates back a long time and indicates a bad fit. It often describes a person unsuited for a position or activity.
If, for example, someone told you, “you don’t have the diplomacy for this job; you’re a square peg in a round hole,” they’d be telling you that you don’t “fit” the position.
The saying applies to many things in life, but I think it’s especially applicable to leadership. Especially when determining if you have the right “fit” for a role in leadership.
How does the concept of “fit”apply to leadership? How do you know if you, indeed, possess the right “fit” to advance into and succeed in a leadership position?
Here are four ways to make the decision.
4 Ways to Determine if a Leadership Role is Right for You
1. The Path From “Doer” to “Leader”
In the early stages of our careers, we’re recognized and rewarded for our ability to “do.” In business aviation, that can take many forms, such as our skills as an experienced international captain, scheduler, financial analyst or maintenance technician.
Our rewards (e.g., performance evaluations, merit increases, bonuses, etc.) were all predicated upon our own ability to produce a result.
We got very good at performing (“doing”) our jobs. And most of our training and development revolved around increasing our proficiency in our specific job or function.
But as a leader, things are different.
Suddenly, it’s not about our own ability to do a job or meet an objective. Rather our success depends on our ability to get the job done and meet the objectives through others.
And that requires a completely different skill set.
Some people like working on their own and being a subject matter expert. They like “diving into the details” and solving complex technical issues by themselves. If that’s what you like, terrific! But if so, think twice about stepping into a leadership role.
As a leader, you’ve got to be very good a motivating others to perform. You’ve got to be ready to “let go” and develop others so they can perform.
You’ve got to be totally comfortable at empowering people to do their jobs. You’ve got to be a good coach, enabling them to grow, develop and achieve the department’s objectives without looking over their shoulders, doing the job for them or “sucking the oxygen out of the air” so they can’t.
And through it all, you’re still accountable for results.
Tip – It’s tough for some people to let go. “Getting things done through others” is vitally important for success in leadership. If you can’t let go, you can’t be a leader. Make sure you’re totally comfortable letting go before you consider taking on a leadership position. Remember, coaches stay on the sidelines.
One of the most important steps in crossing the chasm to leadership is to make sure you’re passionate about the leadership role and all that it entails.
When an accomplished first violinist makes the transition to orchestral conductor, s/he has to be willing to no longer play an instrument. The conductor is essential for the successful performance of the orchestra, but they do not play a single note.
The thrill of conducting a large symphony orchestra is significant, but different skills are required. You get the thrill of “pulling it all together,” but that’s different than the thrill of playing an instrument and contributing in an audible way to the performance.
You need to ask yourself “what am I passionate about?” Am I passionate about motivating others to perform, or would I rather “do it myself?”
In aviation, a good example would be making the transition from line captain to chief pilot. To be effective, a chief pilot should fly no more than half that of a line captain,if even that. There’s simply no way to be an effective chief pilot if you’re out of the office flying all the time.
So you need to ask yourself,am I more passionate about being the chief pilot (“leading”) or would I rather spend my time in the cockpit (“doing”)?
Leadership can be a very tough and time-consuming job, so you need to be very clear that you have a passion for it.
Many people are clear on their passions, but many are not. If you’re not, check out the “Areas of Interest” section of the Birkman Report.
Tip – Be very clear that you’re passionate about stepping out of an individual contributor role and into leadership. If you’re going to be miserable giving up whatever skill set it was that attracted you to a career in business aviation in the first place, think twice before you make a career decision for all the wrong reasons.
3. The Danger of “Should”
We live in a world of “shoulds.”The media constantly bombards us, telling us that if we want to achieve true happiness we “should buy this” or “should buy that.”
The strong under toe of“should” goes a long way back in our lives. Growing up, we often heard that we “should be doing this” or we “should be doing that.” As we entered our college years, we often heard that we “should become this” or we “should become that.”
Remember the movie, The Graduate? “I’ve got just one word for you: Plastics!”
That pressure stays with us all the way into our professional career, when we hear, “You’re a great maintenance technician. You’ll make a great DOM. You should apply!”
All of this advice is, of course, well-intentioned. But the primary guidance to be consulted for such decisions is our own internal guidance.
Make really sure you’re not taking that DOM job solely for a higher pay grade or a significant bump in salary. Make sure you’re not taking that chief pilot job because of the “nudge,nudge, wink, wink” from the VP of Aviation. Those are never the right criteria by which to make a career decision.
Instead, take a close look at the Role Description for that leadership position that looks so enticing.
Ask yourself, “am I ready to be evaluated against these criteria?” And “will spending the majority of my time immersed in these activities peg my passion meter?”
Tip – When considering a move into leadership, the only valid “should” is the one that comes from within.
4. Fit vs. Fitness
In the end, the choice of whether to pursue a leadership career opportunity comes down to where you best“fit.” It’s all about “fit” vs. “fitness” and some people confuse the two concepts.
“Fitness” is about increasing your skills and abilities to do the job you have or the one you aspire to.
For instance, if you are considering a leadership position, you can increase your “fitness” to do the job by enrolling in night school and taking courses in accounting and finance,or perhaps enrolling in a fully matriculated MBA degree program.
That would assure that you are entering the leadership role with all the technical knowledge (“fitness”)you need to perform the job successfully.
But there’s a far more important question to be answered.
Is the leadership position where you really “fit?” Are you going to be happy doing the job or miserable? Are you going to wish you never left that line captain job to become chief pilot, or that maintenance technician position to become DOM?
If so, your potential for success as a leader is questionable at best.
It is vitally important that you make the decision to cross over into leadership strictly from the perspective of where you “fit” the best.
We all know one-too-many people who are miserable doing what they do for a living. It shouldn’t be that way. You should not be able to wait to get to the office or hangar and begin your day.
Tip – Make sure that your“fit” is right for a leadership role. Don’t let anybody tell you that you“should” do it without feeling right about it inside. Make sure it’s an opportunity that you are passionate about. And by all means, make sure that you are willing to let go of the role of “doing” for the role of leading.
If you’d like some career coaching advice, we’re happy to facilitate a Birkman report for you. Simply contact us to learn more.
How have you made the decision to “cross the chasm” into leadership? How did you finally determine whether you were the right “fit” for a leadership role? Please share your experience with us in the comments section below.