Leadership? It may be the case that you don’t want to lead…

It is hard to lead…

I usually create publications that encourage or try to make life easier for someone who has decided to walk a certain path. However, it is not uncommon for me to encounter some “reverse tips” that, instead of encouraging, would help the subject to drop a certain path.

Same as the publication about Focus I wrote about recently. Focus, the silver bullet to cure all diseases

Leadership is the theme that has the largest number of “reverse tips”. Not everyone wants to be a Leader, nor should everyone aspire to be a Leader. I know a lot of people who do not want anything to do with it. And there is no problem in that.

The Pressure to Lead

Interestingly, I read an article about career reporting that 200 years ago, everyone was an entrepreneur. There was no need for leaders within companies: a blacksmith produced what he thought he would sell without any manager. I believe it worked.

At some point, companies started to buy people’s time. They stopped working on their own and went on to work in a career. At some point, the more talented made more money and were put to instruct the less talented.

But not all the talented were also good coordinators and managers. So some were better than others. These rarer beings, at some point, were called leaders. They were able to make their respective teams better than they were at these activities. However, this was a characteristic of the person himself.

As they were rare, they became well paid. And everyone went to desperately want this, having been born for that or not.

The story is not exactly like that, but it’s something like that. Before we move on, let’s do a little quizz: you’re a manager in a company and you’re ordered to cut staff. You make your assessments, the fateful day arrives and you communicate the individual. Your feeling is:

  • Although you are not happy about it, it will be your choice. The company determined a cut, but it was you, the manager, who had to choose whom. Regardless of how you communicate, whether you explain it or not, you take responsibility.
  • You think this is absurd, after all, the decision was not yours, and you say it was something from the company. Unfortunately the company forced you to choose someone and you chose the person who is there. But there was no special reason for that.

Everyone knows their answers. Like it or not. One of the best phrases I’ve heard about leadership was:

The first time you delegate responsibility to upper management, you have lost your leadership.

Leading is taking responsibility. It’s true, I repeat, the first time you delegate your responsibility. Done. You have lost your presence as a leader. Now imagine the time you have to ask the team to work overtime, to criticize a delivery, to deny a raise, or to give rise to just one person … Whoever answered the second option tends to seek exemption from these decisions as well.

Maybe leadership is not for you. It may be that you are not to blame for having this uncontrollable desire to take leadership positions…

The Leadership Cult


Preaching the idea that leading is good is nothing new. From what I’ve been studying and it’s a bit difficult to find older scientific articles and publications, the whole thing started sometime during World War II. It is even easy to imagine why.

It’s hard to get people to a place where they can die by following orders. Obviously this happened in the war. People began to study about this effect that some individuals or even some historical figures had. Studies of all kinds have arisen on what was called leadership, based on elements of psychology, philosophy, religion and so on.

The most common point is that leadership is an isolated place: anyone who takes the lead of something always has the bitterness of being the pioneer. So these studies usually conclude that not everyone has the profile to deal with it and maintain their well being. But one thing these studies also concluded: the leader gets things that ordinary bosses could not.

The Application of Leadership

It was not long before, during the Second World War, someone very intelligent (this guy deserves everyone’s respect, seriously, he was a genius) thought of applying Leadership to business. The reasoning is obvious: if a leader manages to get someone to face death in a battle, can he not get someone to work for a low wage? Or, better yet, work more for lower wages?

This is how Leadership has become the means to optimize resources and increase capital gains. Not every company wants a leader who trains people. I once heard a ruthless definition of leadership, but one that was very well used and posed:

The way companies are, a good leader is one who keeps high-performing professionals at lower wages than the market.

Do you want to take a test? Ask your boss:

What do I need to do to get promoted and raise my salary?

The answer will be disturbing if your boss is appreciated just for keeping you running at a low salary (see note below). In other words, the company does not see leadership as a way to create better, more efficient and happier professionals, but rather as a means of keeping costs down.

Do not you believe it yet? You may notice that in any leadership course, there is a standard topic:

Motivation and Money are not the same thing

Why, I ask? Because the consumer of these courses (who will pay for them) is someone who wants to reduce costs; it is good that the theme satisfies this individual.

By the way: I only agree with this distinction between motivation and reward for high wages: Ask the people who hold the best salary positions if they would not be happier gaining double and I guarantee they would be yes. Salary is so efficient motivator that I know of people if it sells up to the dignity by him.

Note: Any answer other than a concrete plan is just an excuse for reality: you will only raise your salary if you are leaving. I comment a lot on this in Self-Development, which is the concept of working well and demanding to be rewarded accordingly.

The Marketing of Leadership

The idea of having inspirational managers who keep the cost down obviously succeeded. It was like offering candy to children: it mainly laced who had the money to hire “leadership consultants.” Keeping costs low with high productivity is something that advisors love to sell and all business owners are totally willing to pay for.

Leadership has become a product that has both seller and consumer. That’s why you see out there many investments in training leaders within companies with the primary goal of training people in keeping employees motivated at the lowest cost.

At some point, it spread. After all, someone has turned leadership into a plugin, in which with practice and coach, anyone can become a leader.

I remember that in my high school I had classmates who did a “leadership course for young people”.

I looked at those people and, in the “deep” wisdom of my teen years, I did not recognize in them any quality of the “leaders” of the books I read (I already enjoyed biography of historical figures and played a lot of Civilization). Curiously, none of these classmates ever held any leadership position …

This idea that anyone can be a leader eventually also found its way into business. And now everyone has to want to lead. I’ve seen them ask for leadership even for interns.

But you, do you want to be a Leader?

The Model Problem

The problem with this model are engineers, computer scientists, system analysts, that is, people who work with technology. And she likes it. Or the developers, whom I mean so much. Developers sometimes change jobs so they are not promoted.

Here is a parenthesis: if someone outside the technology area thinks that it is impossible for someone not to be a manager or to act as a “leader”, there is another category of professional who often does everything to avoid being promoted: doctor. Doctor does not want to act with bureaucracy, wants to take care of patient. Both doctors do not like being promoted that a Hospital Administration course was created.

Well, that’s the same line as this article: Good engineering managers are not just hard to find – they do not exist

So a huge hole has been created inside the companies. There are many people who do not want to and have no intention of leading. Businesses need someone for this. So it is placed the first guy that is available, or, worse yet, “the left over” in case of companies that only want developers working for lowest wages…

There is nothing wrong with not wanting to lead, to be clear. So if you do not want to lead anyone, do not lead.

The question of each one …

This is a delicate point. First one must ask him/herself: why the hell will I want to be a leader?

I had my answer. It began like this:

Because I think someone needs to worry about HOW we’re working.

This answer came when I set up a wiki to document data for a project. I and a colleague were alone in that. There was no restraint from our boss at that time. Honestly, there was even some encouragement, but at no time it was tagged as important. What began as a bureaucratic concern grew in size to the point where the answer came:

Because I want to help others do more than I could.

Leading, basically, is thinking about others. In the book “The Monk and the Executive” this is defined as love. I already define this as being an ideal, in my case, to see the developers working at the best of their performance.

Leadership is a Lonely Place.

Leadership is a quality that does not only depend on the goodwill of the leader, it also depends on the leaders and that could not be sold as merchandise as if it were a plugin. I usually use the concept of making mistakes alone or in a group: it is very comforting to make the same mistake as most are doing.

But in Leading, you do one of the worst things that exists: you go alone. You do not make mistakes with your team, you do not make mistakes with your peers. You make mistakes alone. You make decisions that affect other people’s lives, but you digest it yourself. Your peers are other managers and potentially other leaders, and as reliable as they are, they have a duty to the company. Not with you.

Curiously, Leadership places the leader in the midst of people to be alone there.

The Joys of the Job

I will not comment too much about joy in this article, because this is a little bit off topic. But yes, there are joys in this job. I’m not going to quote achievements, hit goals, none of that. Leading is about people. I will cite my joys:

  • Receive an email from an ex-team mate asking for tip, giving you some recommendation or, best of all, thanking.
  • Being able to count on the old team as if they were colleagues, because the careers have changed places;
  • Leave the team sad with your exit, but leave them prepared to face adversities;
  • Find out, years after you left, that the team preserves your legacy and improved what you left to them;
  • To hear that the result of your work as a guide was important in the career of the your team;
  • And know that people repeat your catchphrases as voice of wisdom. My, I’ve heard of two:
    • Everything that is ready to sell will sell;
    • Whoever opens the arms to carry the world around will not be ready to carry a bucket full of stones.

Leadership is even a lonely place, but making a difference is everything.


You will not always want to deal with human aspects. It’s all right. Often, a developer can be extremely happy in taking care of his technical issues, running away from all that is bureaucratic why he is working on what he likes.

This leadership gain is artificially stimulated and, like any cost-cutting tool, will always be used as a selling item and will always have a captive audience, like any tool that promises money. Do pyramid schemes not work? They work! Therefore, selling a leadership course that even adds something to the subject, as something that can be learned regardless of the subject’s talent for the thing, does not seem so scam like those pyramid schemes.

But if you’re a leader, if you think you have what it takes, the question I always ask developers or those who are interested in taking on a managerial role: why do you want it and, more importantly, what would you do if you get there?

About rftafas 183 Articles
Ricardo F. Tafas Jr graduated in Electrical Engineering at UFRGS with focus on Digital Systems and achieved his Masters also in Electrical Engineering on Telecomunications Network Management. He also author of "Autodesenvolvimento para Desenvolvedores (Self-development for developers). Ricardo has +10 years experience on R&D Management and +13 years on Embedded Eystem Development. His interest lay on Applied Strategic HR, Innovation Management and Embedded Technology as a differentiator and also on High Performance Digital Systems and FPGAs. Actually, he is editor and writer for “Repositório” blog (, editorial board member at Embarcados (https://embarcados.com.br) and he is Management and Innovation Specialist at Repo Dinâmica - Aceleradora de Produtos.
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