The Costs & Benefits of Leadership

William Shakespeare once said something along the lines of, “the meaning of life is to find your gift. The purpose of life is to give it away.” I believe that leadership is a gift, given to a select group of people. Of course, not all of us can be leaders, because in order to have a leader, we must also have followers. Not all of us desire to be leaders; some of us are perfectly content with a quite existence, where we can show up to work, go home to our families, and not carry too, too much responsibility, or too, too much burden from other people’s problems.

There definitely are some seemingly attractive benefits to being a leader. For one, you can be sure your existence is valid, that you matter. I think validation is one of the top motives for people’s behaviors. In a sea full of 6 billion plus people, we want to know that our existence means something, that we carry some kind of weight, that people will miss us when we are gone, that we weren’t just a mistake or some kind of frivolous creation. We’ve all been in a situation at work, where one person gets touchy when you try to change an idea, a procedure, a type of straw (usually because they latch onto that idea as a symbol of their importance). In social situations, we all have that friend who seems to always need to be the center of attention–because being the center of attention validates his/her significance and “necessity” in the world–or that social media friend whose existence depends upon the amount of ‘likes’ and ‘comments’ associated with each post. In our families, we have constructed a plethora of holidays, dedicated to pointing out the importance of our family members, if even all we do is purchase an obligatory $4 Hall-Mark card and sign our name in it. So, being a leader offers one a naturally validated existence–your name is recognizable, your decisions have buying power, your deeds become Google-able. You know that you matter.

But, like anything in life, there are always costs to these benefits. For one, I think by being a leader and having your name recognizable, you sacrifice a little bit of your private life. Yes, people know who you are–maybe you get business cards, or have a plaque with your name on it at your desk, or a head shot hanging in the lobby–which is a physical representation of your self, and your existence, but that also means some of the details of your private life become open to the public. People may criticize your decisions, make fun of your physical appearance, leak information about something you did in college. Let’s take The Bachelorette, JoJo, for example. Since becoming The Bachelorette, JoJo has taken on a kind of leadership position. She is no longer a no-name real estate developer from Dallas. Her face now fills magazine tabloids, her name now a topic of dinner conversations, her fashion starting trends. To most people, this sounds very desirable, because JoJo MATTERS. But, the cost of holding this leadership position now means that her pictures scrutinized, her decisions criticized, her fashion judged. This is exactly what happened in the Uruguay episode, when Chris gives JoJo the magazine article from her ex-boyfriend, and JoJo has that massive breakdown. Yes, having a recognizable name may sound appealing, but it certainly comes with a cost (like airing your dirty laundry). The same is true with professional athletes, elected officials, celebrities. It’s always funny to me when someone uncovers something unfavorable and scandalous from high profile people–like Bill Cosby roofing those girls, the Duggar boy molesting his sisters, Bill Clinton’s affair–and they react so disgustingly, appalled that someone would ever shed such terrible and private information about them. In my opinion, it’s the cost of having that leadership position–it’s great that everyone knows your name, but they also know everything else about you, too (Good thing Don Draper is good at keeping secrets).

In holding a leadership position, you hold some kind of clout when making decisions. When I first entered the job market as a server, and I held NO leadership position, no one cared what I thought about the schedule, if the wording on the menu sounded appealing, what color I thought the napkins should be, how that customer confrontation should be handled; I showed up, did as I was told, and that was it. As a teacher, I get a say in what my students learn. Of course, there certainly are guidelines to constructing curriculum, but if I feel like the vocabulary is under grade level, or I want to read Steinbeck instead of Fitzgerald, I can make those decisions. And, when my students are reading ‘The Snake’ and responding via essay, I can physically see my existence, and my opinion, validated–I am doing something that impacts other people. The benefit is that this feels really great, and that everyday, I know that I personally and individually have made a decision that impacts other people (unlike the restaurant job where no one cared what I had to say). But the cost of this validation is that (a) I’m probably taking my work home with me, and (b) I’m opening myself up for criticism, the opportunity for students to reject my choices, failure. Let’s go back to JoJo: in The Bachelorette, JoJo “makes” the decisions of who she wants to go on her dates with, and who she wants to send home. So, ultimately, JoJo “controls” the outcome of the show, which can be validating, a sign that SHE MATTERS, and that if something tragic were to happen to her, the show could not go on. But, in receiving that validation, she is also opening herself up to those same marks of criticism, rejection, failure. People may not like how she accepted Jordan’s lie about cheating on his ex girlfriend. JoJo may find herself rejected in certain social circles. She may fail at “finding love”–but it’s the cost associated with the benefit of stepping into those leadership positions.

Leaders are also prevalent in social situations. For example, we have the figure of the matriarch, which is the female of the family of whom all moral and ethical decision funnel through. Usually, this is the eldest female, who owns the most social and economic capital (but not always). The matriarch is probably the figure who receives the best birthday cards, the most recognition at graduation ceremonies/weddings, and gets to put her name on the insurance policy (ok, so maybe that isn’t an honor). But, in return for this validation, the matriarch is also the one who sacrifices at social gatherings; you probably house all holiday parties at the matriarch’s house, which means the matriarch plays hostess, does the cooking, organizing, planning of activities, which also means that her holiday is spent a little distracted, and is less relaxing. Sure, she gets a stake in family decisions, but she also deals with the phone calls from everyone, and must navigate those decisions.

So, in conclusion, being a leader, on the surface sounds very glamorous, but there certainly are costs to offset that condition.

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