Why Would Anyone Want to be a Leader?

What is your motivation to lead?

Posted May 10, 2018

I was at a recent talk and a very honest and straightforward executive began his talk with “Managing people sucks!” He focused on the difficulties of leading and keeping employees motivated and on task, and satisfied. Leading/managing is indeed hard work. Why would anyone want to be a leader?

An important piece of research by Chan and Drasgow talks about individual differences in an individual’s “motivation to lead” – examining the reasons why someone might choose a leadership position. They focus on three types of motivation:

Affective-IdentityThis motivation to lead comes from an actual enjoyment of being in a leadership position.

Calculative-Non-Calculative motivation to lead involves the extent to which an individual weighs the costs and benefits of taking on a leadership role. Leadership has its benefits and its burdens. A person high on non-calculative motivation to lead, doesn’t much consider the costs and benefits.

Social-Normative motivation to lead is feeling an obligation to lead. For example, other people might call on you or nominate you to take on a leadership position, and that social pressure motivates you to lead.

Of course, these aren’t the only motivators for leadership. Power is a strong motivator (often for the worse types of leaders). In fact, the motivation for power can often distinguish good from bad leaders. If the leader is motivated by personal power (what’s in it for the leader), this is often the slippery slope that leads to bad leadership. Socialized power involves the leader using her or his power to help benefit followers.

Why is motivation to lead important? It helps provide insight into what motivates a person to lead, and provides a foundation for future leadership development.

References

Chan, K., & Drasgow, F. (2001). Toward a theory of individual differences and leadership: Understanding the motivation to lead. Journal of Applied Psychology, 86(3), 481-498.

Howell, J. M. (1988). Two faces of charisma: Socialized and personalized leadership in organizations. In J. A. Conger & R. N. Kanungo, Charismatic leadership: The elusive factor in organizational effectiveness (pp. 213-236). San Francisco, CA, US: Jossey-Bass.