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The Power Badge

Updated: May 12, 2022

I just had an “Ah Ha” moment today. I was in a leadership program and shared about a woman I met once a few years ago. She’s an incredibly seasoned, experienced leader. She’s been a presidential appointee and has held some of the highest-level roles in my field. And I have to tell you, I’ve rarely met anyone so jaw-droppingly incongruent with what I’d call a “good leader.” In fact, more than 2 years after I met her, I’m still in awe of the fact that she got to where she got to.

I mentioned her to my former employer two years ago and said, “Oh, today I met ‘Woman.’

And… whoah.” And do you know what he said to me? He said, “Well, she’s doing something right. She didn’t get to where she is without doing something right.”

For two years I’ve struggled with this. How can someone so egregiously unfit make it to such a high level of leadership? Well, today someone in my leadership program explained it to me.

He said, “Some people are really good at leading their teams, and some people are really good at doing what their leaders want – and a lot of the time – it’s those leaders who get to the highest levels.”

It was like a light from heaven shined down, angels sang “Aaaahhhhhh!” and I finally got it. And then, like in a movie, I saw a rapid succession of ‘bad leaders’ scroll through my mind, and I realized that almost without fail, every single one of them was great at giving their leaders exactly what they wanted (at any cost, honestly), while demoralizing their followers/teams/subordinates. They got power, but they didn’t get people.

Then, the guy in my leadership group said, “What kind of leader are you? Are you the kind that leads to serve their teams, or are you the kind of leader that leads to do what the higher-ups want?”

I’m guessing you can figure out what I said.

Here’s what I think: Leaders who choose to appease the “big bosses” at the expense of their teams should not be people leaders. They should be solutions architects or consultants. They should be the lone-wolf in the office who ‘gets it done.’ Or … whatever. Let them manage projects, but for the love of God, don’t let them lead actual humans.

Because leaders are supposed to inspire. Leaders are supposed to serve. Leaders are supposed to create a vision and strategy that people want to follow. And a good leader can deliver to their leadership without demeaning, abusing, bullying, or threatening their teams. They can talk about their own success without belittling others.

And they can, and should, continually – ceaselessly – develop and grow themselves.

Any time you think you know all there is to know, have developed as much as can be developed, or are the only strategic person in the room… well… the jig is up. You’ve just proved to me (and probably a lot of others) that you gave up your Good Leadership Badge in exchange for…

The Power Badge.

And hey, if power is the thing you’re after: props to you, sister. But a good leader you are not.

The moral of the story is: Leadership requires humility. It requires that you actually love the people you lead. If you want power, just “lead up,” but if you want to actually inspire others to leadership? Well, that’s a whole different skillset… or so I believe.

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