Every organization needs a leader. Motorcycle gangs have (official and unofficial) designated leaders, as do Red Cross workers. Children on school playgrounds follow the leader, just as dogs in a pack. Regardless of your calling, someone is going to lead the charge; no group can do without. It might as well be you.
In business, they're formally called chief (fill in the blank with chief operating, technical, legal, personnel, administrative, technology, information, continuity, risk, nuclear, marketing, manufacturing, financial, purchasing, quality, country, security, learning, or strategic) officer – which can lead to the chief executive officer job.
Being the person in charge – the leader – is a lot bigger rush than base-jumping. It's rad. It's cool. And it's awesome.
One psychologist told me: "Everyone wants to be a chief, but most feel it's unrealistic, so they turn it around and act like they don't want it anyway. But they wouldn't turn it down if offered."
Over many conversations with a number of CEOs, I asked why being the leader in the enterprise is a good gig. They told me that you have the best chance of any job in the organization to:
- Turn things around; make things happen.
- Be the coach, the mentor.
- Make a difference.
- Get to select the people you’re around.
- Be able to do something about the problems you complain about.
- Make your own decisions.
- Minimize doing things that you think are stupid.
- Choose the chances you’re going to take.
- Make decisions that can change the world.
- Be able to help more people.
- Do what you think is right.
- Be the boss you always wanted to have.
- And control your own destiny.
As one CEO put it, "I figured I'm as smart as others running the show. I decided to be the boss that I always wanted to have."
The fact is that being a leader in any organization is a most noble (and interesting) role. What's more important than working as the big kahuna to build an organization, putting wages in peoples' pockets, growing the economy, and making the world a better place?
Plus, you'll make from 40 to 1,000 times more money than what most people make in their first job. Now, if that offends you, it's something you can change once you're in the top seat. (As a business friend commented, "Money doesn't buy happiness, but you can look for it in much nicer places.")
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Most importantly, as the leader, chief, or CEO, you have the most direct route to help humanity. In addition to leading the organization as you see fit, as a head you can take on a socially responsible position to direct resources toward solutions in global climate change, clean water in developing countries, the world economy, information technology access for everyone, wellness and health issues (such as HIV, malaria, and a host of other diseases), or at the very least, an equal opportunity for people to grow and prosper.
"You can pair self-interest that is the hallmark of capitalism with interest in the welfare of others," says Bill Gates, chairman of the board of Microsoft Corp., speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos (which put $33-billion U.S. into his foundation to improve health care worldwide).
This kind of stewardship is a gift not many people get to have. You need initiative, influence, and resources to do what Mr. Gates promotes – and that can come only from being a leader.
Public companies, on average, replace their top leaders every five years, according to the search firm, Spencer Stuart. (This is much lower than the average National Football League team, with turnover of almost 40 per cent every year.) With 76 million baby boomers in the U.S. leaving the work force across the board, people will be promoted to bigger jobs earlier (this is happening in Europe and Asia, too). The fact is that 92 per cent of the 350 million people in the United State will end up working at some job level in corporate America. I say that if you're going to end up enrolled there anyway, you might as well go for the best job starting now, and that is a role of leadership.
You know what you're about: ambitious, technologically adept, adaptable, civic-minded, socially conscious, success-driven, unafraid to question the status quo, confident, a multi-tasker, and generally optimistic. You already have the foundation of what makes up leadership; you might as go all the way to the top job.
Debra Benton is a contributor to the Personal Branding Blog. She has been helping individuals and organizations get even better for over 20 years. She is the author of 10 award-winning and best-selling business books including The Virtual Executive and CEO Material.