Debunk the myth: you don’t have to lead to achieve great success

You don’t have to lead to achieve success.

You don’t have to be a leader to achieve success.

You don’t need a lofty title to achieve success.

You don’t have to climb the career ladder step by step, rung by rung, to achieve success.

Lately, coaching sessions and general conversations with leaders have rounded to a dramatic realization: we have missed the mark. Lives of learning that the most successful people are at the top of the organization have tainted our vision of happiness at work, and it’s starting to catch up with us.

Imagine that you have a 5 or 10 or 20 year career working to be the boss and then the boss’s boss and so on. One day, you realize that you are not fulfilled. You realize that you don’t want to be a leader: you want something else. You ask yourself, “If I am not a leader, if I give up this leaderly ladder life, can I still achieve success? If so, what does that look like?” Or even worse, “If I take a non-leadership role, am I a failure?”

No, not a failure. Now is the time to redefine your life goals and focus on the big picture by internalizing the following points:

1. Many people have had life-long, fulfilling careers doing what they love, regardless of the title.

I worked with hundreds of teams, and the most successful teams have as much respect for their janitor as they do for they CEO. If you enjoy leadership, become a leader. If you enjoy doing the work, do the work. The most valuable contribution you can make for yourself and your team is to find what makes you tick and do that.

2. You are not trapped.

So often I hear clients talk about feeling trapped in their position and the “Ask me if I am a tree” joke comes to mind. You are not a tree. You are not designed to live your entire life in one space. Leave. You may have to take a pay cut (about 50% of my clients do), but there is no price tag on loving life. We all land on our feet once we work toward our passions and stop allowing societal pressures, like the career ladder, limit our options.

The Proverbial Corporate Ladder

3. Stepping out of a leadership role to be YOU is leaderly.

We forget that some of the best leaders lead from the heart and are sincerely, whole-heartedly understanding the needs of themselves…and then others, reconciling that these are one and the same. If you realize that your position is not YOU, moving on will inspire others to realize their true potential as well.

4. A person with a title is not always a leader.3

I won’t forget one of my favorite conversations with a leader about titles. To paraphrase a lengthy conversation, this leader said, “I have had the title of Supervisor or Manager for nearly 30 years, but I don’t lead my teams. They lead the work and I help them be successful. The title is meaningless, it’s the relationship and respect that matters.”

Some people have the ability to be good leaders. Many people do not and many people desire not to be leaders but feel it is their only option for advancement.

If you’re not motivated by helping others achieve their success as individuals and part of a team, that’s just fine. More and more positions are being created currently that allow you to be recognized for great work as part of a team rather than placing the best workers in positions of leadership that don’t fit their skill set just to “keep them.”

Find (or create) a position that allows you to be you. You deserve it.

We don’t have to be leaders to achieve success.

Once you do what you love and realize the unlimited options available to you outside of the career ladder, you will write back to me about how good it feels to breathe again, now that you’ve removed yourself from the space that didn’t lead you to YOU.

Even if you’re not a writer, you will want to share your story with others.

Breathe. You are not a tree.

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