For years, I used to think that in order for me to become a leader, I would need to land a management position of some type. Indeed, for a long time, our culture taught us that you needed to obtain some kind of leadership or management position in order to be a leader. So I strived for climbing the corporate ladder, trying to get myself into the upper ranks and getting into a position where I could be the one calling most (but not necessarily all) of the shots. I even contemplated pursuing an MBA (and, to a small extent, I am still entertaining the idea).
Now that I’m older (and, hopefully, wiser), I no longer have such ambitions. At this point in my career, I am happy where I am, management position be damned. Climbing the corporate ladder is no longer a priority for me (that said, if such an opportunity arises, it doesn’t necessarily mean I would turn it down, but it would depend on the opportunity). If I ever haven an opportunity to be promoted, that’d be great, but it is no longer a priority for me, and if it never happens, I won’t lose sleep over it.
This seems to correspond with a change in my mindset as I advance in my career (and my age). When I was younger and more brash, I wanted to be the center of attention, the rock star. But now that I’m older and have some more experience under my belt, being the rock star is no longer a priority.
What I discovered is that I very much get just as much of a high by helping someone else become the rock star. I frequently take part in mentoring opportunities — through my alma mater, my fraternity, my job, or my extracurricular activities. Whenever I see someone struggling with something, and if I am able to assist (which I’m not always able to do), I’ll offer my advice or my hand. And I get a great deal of satisfaction whenever the light bulb goes off in my student’s or mentee’s head, and (s)he suddenly says, “oh, NOW I get it!”
I was reminded of this last Saturday when I spoke at Data Geeks Saturday. I signed into the virtual room in which I was doing my own presentation, and I caught the tail end of Mark Runyon‘s presentation titled “Elevating Your Career into IT Leadership.” I had seen his presentation before — it was either at PASS Summit or another SQL Saturday — I don’t remember which — but one of the takeaways was that there are many ways to become a leader, and it doesn’t necessarily involve becoming a manager.
There are many ways to be a leader. Be a mentor or a teacher. Volunteer to take the reigns whenever an opportunity arises. If you see someone struggling, help him or her out. Leadership takes many forms. You don’t necessarily have to climb the ladder to attain it.