The Demands of Leadership


The Demands of Leadership

Higher level of responsibility and pressure

Taking accountability of high stakes outcomes has obvious highs, but also comes with the potential for lows when outcomes aren’t favorable. 

So, how should you handle setbacks or mistakes? Do you focus on the imperfections, and hold yourself to a ridiculously high standard? Are you tougher on yourself than you are on your best, most respected teammate/subordinate/leader?

Know that mistakes are typically understood retrospectively, when you have the luxury of all the facts and information and you’ve uncovered/realized multiple viewpoints.  But still, learning to live with “mistakes” or lapses in judgment could leave leaders vulnerable to guilt, grief, and self-doubt. This is where the door opens to loss of confidence and potentially less effectiveness.  

How do you bounce back from these low moments?  Do you talk with trusted peers or mentors?  You can only know what you know when you know it. And what you learn is what you do with it. Ignoring the lesson sets us up for future failures, but recognizing the lesson and implementing the way forward is growth.

When considering your role as a leader, or in looking at the leaders around you, it may be helpful to consider the following:

  •  Higher levels of leadership can lead to more isolation. Some of this is a result of increased competition among peers for limited positions. Unfortunately, even in tight-knit communities it may be difficult to find someone you can trust and bounce thoughts off of.  More isolation makes you your own confidant. And really, that isn’t always the best way to get a gut check or get objective feedback. Some leaders make a point to have someone in their circle who explicitly “doesn’t owe them anything or expect anything from them.”  It’s the surest way to get the truth of it.


  • Leaders may feel they are more risk averse over time.  But is it really that?  Or rather, is this outcome produced by one’s experience having a richer and broader understanding of all of the potential outcomes? That’s the definition of supervisor/adviser.  To plan/understand all the contingencies and to foresee those outcomes that are unforeseeable to their subordinates. It is their responsibility to consider all the factors so that there are no surprises.Higher levels of leadership are preceded by years of experience and learning from lessons. This learning is also having to face the negative consequences and knowing what could come if things don’t go as planned, or if indeed the predicted acceptable losses occur. But also, your superiors may not allow for you to make mistakes or might leave you feeling as if you have zero top cover. Those environments ultimately lead to conditions of limiting loss of control, taking risks, or being unsuccessful.

  • In the lifecycle of a leader is it always “all in all the time”?  Consider your “shelf life” and how to realistically sustain yourself if you plan on a 20-30 year long career. Life isn’t static, and personal lives still require your bandwidth.  And also the attention “life” needs changes over time.  Parenting small kids and high schoolers require different approaches and have different demands. Think about when your teenage child will do exactly as you’ve raised them and call you out for being less than perfect. Frankly, spouses can only go for so long taking care of everything and didn’t necessarily get married to only be “single but married.”  Parents age, and at some point, need their adult children to help, as well.

  • Imposter syndrome may be key.  That feeling of, “Am I really doing this?” can be an opening for humility and self-calibration. It’s not entirely an undesirable feeling to marvel at the fact that you’re doing what you’re doing, or have been assigned the responsibility you’ve been tasked with.  The problem arises when one starts to feel entitled to their responsibilities or feeling like it’s deserved. And yes, it can lead to insecurity if not put into perspective. The point is to not take for granted what your accomplishments are and to level that against maintaining an unassuming posture towards your responsibilities and what you can control.

  • Holding oneself accountable and having the courage to own a mistake is still very much a desired trait. In fact, “ownership” is characteristic of one that most trust – along with courage, humility, and professionalism. However, it can go too far.  It very much can be a double-edged sword. Most communities in which there is a standard for selection and training admire most those who take responsibility for their actions; especially those who own their mistakes and are willing to talk about them.On the flipside, going too far looks like taking responsibility for circumstances that one had no control over or couldn’t predict. It’s not appreciating one’s own “human factor” in the situation.  For example, not recognizing how one’s decision-making, abilities, and awareness may have become degraded due to the circumstances. There’s a delicate balance in taking responsibility and holding yourself to a high standard and being objective with your self-assessments in recognizing the real limits of your abilities.

    There frankly is a real limit, and are you really weak if you can’t go beyond it? That’s the dilemma. What are the real limits?  And when you push past them, what are the costs?  There are always those Meat-eaters who are seemingly superhuman, but there’s likely a limit/or other factor that presents as a consequence. Consequences and outcomes can be positives or negative and desired traits (i.e. high levels of commitment/intensity) can sometimes come at a cost.

  • And then there’s your physical health. Wear and tear is real.  What we can accomplish on very little sleep is different at 27 vice 47.  Living a high-pressure life impacts our physical bodies in a multitude of ways. And your body takes a beating in the demands of life, whether it’s neck/back/knee pain or headaches, or hearing loss and weight.  Pushing beyond your body’s limits can lead to diminished bandwidth. Thinking about limited bandwidth, it’s natural to consider the impacts to decision making, judgment, and stress tolerance.

It’s not weak to take care of yourself – it’s required.
  Put bluntly, don’t be a liability to yourself or the organization. Diminished bandwidth and health consequences are an understood result of years of service. When the wear and tear is showing, address it.  Ignoring it can surely lead to worse outcomes.