Lead on Purpose

Promoting Leadership Principles in Product Management

The price of leadership


The topic of whether leaders are born or made comes up often and has created many interesting conversations. In their recent Wall Street Journal article Do You Really Want to be a Leader?, Preston C. Bottger and Jean-Louis Barsoux address the question “are leaders born or are they made?” with the simple statement “the answer is irrelevant.” You will not know whether you have what it takes to be a leader until you try really hard to express it. The real question is: are you willing to invest the effort and make the sacrifices necessary to take on the responsibility of a leadership position?

The authors propose three questions you should ask to assess your own leadership potential:

  • How far do you want to go? To help you measure your inclination and desire to rise to new levels of leadership, look at your immediate boss’s job and ask yourself if you could do it as well or better – answer honestly. Then take it another step; consider the most senior leader in your line of sight – perhaps the chief executive. Get a feel for the time, energy and capabilities required to do those jobs. What would those jobs require of you that you can’t do now or that you don’t enjoy doing? What do you enjoy now but would have to give up? It’s crucial to honestly assess the job you are pursuing and make sure it’s a direction you want to head.
  • What are you willing to invest? There will be pleasures that you must give up. Certainly, there will be implications for your personal life – raising questions not so much about balancing work and family in the short term, but about finding a sustainable mix for the long term.
  • How will you keep it up? If you envision another 10, 20 or even 30 years of leadership work, then you must find effective methods for maintaining your physical, emotional and intellectual well-being. Periodically you must create timeouts to review where you are investing your time and energy, to ensure that you remain capable of generating new behaviors to deal with new challenges.

Whether leadership is something you can learn is not the right question. Whether you want to pay the price to reach the leadership level of your dreams is the real question you need to sort out.

The Product Management Perspective: Most product managers do not “manage” other people (in the traditional HR sense of the word). However, the need to lead others to help you succeed is absolutely critical. Working with people on other teams, spending time with customers and understanding your markets take a lot of time. This often leaves you doing your “work” at weird hours after your coworkers are long gone. Regardless of the cost, the investment in building relationships is critical to succeeding in your current role and building the foundation on which to grow your career. The crucial question you need to ask yourself: is it worth the cost?

6 thoughts on “The price of leadership

  1. Pingback: The Vision Quest « Where the Product Management Tribe Gathers

  2. Pingback: MAPping Company Success

  3. I teach MBAs and the concept of can you teach leadership, what is it, who has the qualities regularly comes up.

    I think all have the potential, but it takes context to allow the potential to become realised. A person will not become a leader sitting in class, waiting to be annointed or reading books. A person will become a leader by leading. In corporate it might take til you are 50 to have a “leadership role” – but many charities will put you in charge of a team right now – just imagine how much better you will be at 50 if you have been leading in other contexts for the previous 30 years 😉

    • Conor, excellent comments. The context is important, and I would add the willingness to roll up your sleeves and go to work. Those who seek out opportunities will gain leadership experience. And the sooner (i.e. earlier in your life) the better.


  4. A lot of things in one place, thanks..

  5. have been reading ur blog around three days. really love what you posted. btw i am conducting a research relating to this topic. do you happen to know any good websites or maybe online forums that I can get more information? thanks a lot.

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