The Difficult Truth About What Real Leaders Do

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The Difficult Truth About What Real Leaders Do

You want to build a start-up or get a promotion to a management job. You want to be a leader–to manage a team. And these are admirable goals. But, have you stopped to think about what day-to-day leadership looks like?

It’s not sitting in a big leather chair and handing down decisions that your brilliant staff carry out while you rake in the piles of gold. It’s a lot of hard work and sacrifice.

A woman who is an Operations Executive for a large company recently shared this, and with her permission, I share it with you. This is what leadership looks like:

I have teammates and employees evacuated in Southern California.

I have an employee who was rushed to the hospital in early labor (10 weeks early) yesterday.

I have an employee whose roof partially gave in after heavy rains in Alabama. (Fixer-upper, but we had called him from his roofing project to join a critical meeting last Saturday). 

I have employees with whom I spent two hours last night–who just finished writing the code that has been dogging us–at 4:00 am eastern. None of that team under me has had a full day off in 2+ weeks.  (Neither have I, but I’m not writing code at 2:00 am either).

I sat in a chair for 15 hours yesterday. I was awake for 17 hours. Those two hours involved sending my 13-year old for Chinese food (while I waited in the car wearing the gym clothes I never actually used and my fuzzy boots) and helping people with homework. I couldn’t work out or move, which is why I’m awake at 3:00 am with sacroiliac joints joint pain. (My husband was out of town dealing with his mom’s medical issues).

The temperature starts with a 1. My insomnia is raging, and all I can think about are the 40+ people on my team who have worked harder and longer than I have. Sometimes I hate being in charge, making the hard decisions that mean people are working well past when we should be done, solving monumental tech and system issues, and navigating the organization’s political realms that are emotionally exhausting.

Leading isn’t glamorous. It is gritty and exhausting and makes my heart hurt. It is also terribly lonely sometimes. I want to hibernate tomorrow, go on a long, slow run, drink juice and read a book that doesn’t require me to think. I don’t want to people. Or be an adult, truthfully. 

I will instead get up, pound pavement in a sprint (all I can squeeze in), and be to work at 7 am (my husband will get the kids off, hallelujah) until the sun goes down and people in my house start wondering if I’ve moved out. Lather, rinse, repeat.

She assured me that, with her fever, she was working at home–where she has been working since March, and that she’s feeling much better today, but the thought to take a sick day didn’t cross her mind.

Leadership isn’t glamorous. It’s hard work. If you are looking for recognition, try Hollywood. Because this is what leadership looks like.

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