I Do Not Want to Lead

Traditionally, most employees wanted to grow into leadership positions in their career.  A measure of your value to an organization related to how quickly you moved from doing the work to overseeing those that do the work.  Although different generations have responded with different levels of enthusiasm to the “quest” for a leadership position, there has been core group that desired to various reasons to be a in a position of authority.

Figure 1: Interest in Leadership Position

Some recent research by HCS found that some of the desire for taking on leadership positions may be diminishing.  Figure 1 captures the percent of respondents that are interested in moving into leadership positions in the near future based on a sample of 1,000 employees in various stages of their career and industries.  At the beginning of the last decade, more than 60 percent of those surveyed aspired to hold a leadership position in their organization.  The percentage increased gradually between 2001 and 2007 with a slight downturn in 2005.  However, the beginning of the economic downturn initiated a gradual slowing of interest until falling to around 50 percent of respondents in 2011.

Clearly, the economic downturn correlates with a change in the level of interest in being a leader.  Nevertheless, there might be other factors that are directly or indirectly related.  HCS conducted a second survey in 2011 that asked why employees have less interest in becoming leaders.  Figure 2 illustrates the results of the respondents.  Among the 1,200 respondents from various industries and locations, approximately 80 percent indicated that there is a poor trade-off between costs and benefits in their organization when becoming a manager or leader.  In other words, what I gain by taking on a position of leadership does not adequately cover the cost of new responsibilities and stress.  This is something that I have encountered in a number of organizations where a strong performer or mid-level manager decides that that higher level position would provide more financial rewards, but too high of a work-life balance cost.

Figure 2: Reasons for Not Wanting to be a Leader

Surprisingly, more than 60 percent of respondents feel that being a leader would require a level of unethical behavior that he or she is not comfortable with based on their current understanding of what leaders in their organization are required to do.  This coincides with more anecdotal evidence that indicates that employees feel that the layoffs of the downturn were not handled fairly.  The third most identified concern relates most directly to the current economic environment as well as the organization’s culture.  A little more than 60 percent feel that the work environment is not conducive to success and would not want to be placed in a position of more risk.  This response combines concerns with meeting organization goals in a period of significant uncertainty and the poor morale that most organizations are experiencing due to the handling and results of the downturn. Fear of losing my job if I am not successful as a leader is more than 50 percent with loss of friends and lack of skills or training falling around 40 percent.

What does this mean for those of us that develop or hire leaders? It means that things are tough right now when we consider that less interest is corresponding with a decrease in qualified supply.  In the next post, I will discuss some of the options that we have seen utilized successfully.

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