Becoming a strong leader isn't easy—and it's not for everyone

Behind every failed leader is an excuse. In our experience studying and working with global leadership in the hospitality industry, successful leaders consistently tell us in one way or another that excuses were for “losers” whereas “winners” find solutions to tough challenges, or at least look at failed initiatives with a winning attitude and use the situation to adopt key learnings to apply to future scenarios. 

It’s easy to lay claim to the title of leader when things are going well, but taking responsibility for your actions is difficult when things get tough. In today’s Twitter and social-media age, it seems that people like to play the blame game rather than take accountability. Deflection, dismissiveness and so-called pivoting unfortunately are skills that are all too often taught and rewarded in modern society. There have been some outlandish excuses over the years, many from very well-known public figures. It is amazing that so many leaders, in politics or business, don’t own up to their indiscretions or errors. Even honest mistakes can undermine one’s credibility, but not nearly as deeply or lasting as cover-ups or blame games.

Only when someone is willing to take responsibility and accountability for their thoughts and actions will they mature as a leader, or an individual for that matter. Let’s keep this short and sweet, as Mike Myatt, author of "Businesses Don’t Fail, Leaders Do," summed it up, “When you strip away all of the excuses, explanations, rationalizations and justifications for business failure, you’ll find only one plausible reason and that is poor leadership.” 

Two sobering, and unspoken truths are that leadership isn’t for everyone and you can’t have it all, at least in any given moment. You probably won’t see or hear these lessons echoed in most resources on leadership development. This is because most resources tout only the positive, aspirational aspects of leadership rather than the darker side of it all.

Nevertheless, anyone contemplating being a leader or excelling once you’ve reached the top needs a potent awareness of the darker side of leadership.

It is important to “focus” and “keep your eye on the ball” in order to keep people aligned and dedicated to a single goal or challenge. Focus is critically important, as the human brain is not hardwired to multi-task; diluting one’s focus on too many tasks at once can result in nothing accomplished well. If you accept the premise that “diluting focus tends to dilute effectiveness” then its natural extension applies also to the dichotomy between a leader’s professional versus personal life. Think about it, and it makes completes sense: paying close attention to business issues tends to mean less focus on personal or home life, whereas paying close attention to one’s home life tends to mean less focus on business details. It’s a basic physics and psychology fact alike. People can’t be present in two places at the same time.

Leaders know this and work to minimize the time constraints and other personal sacrifices that come when building and maintaining a business, but leaders accept the inherent fact that personal sacrifice is required in order to focus on leading an organization to sustained success. This is referred to as the “Happiness-Satisfaction Paradox.” Simply stated, this paradox means that a leader tends to be either personally happy or professional satisfied at any given moment, but never both. Being happy at home dilutes focus on managing business success, and making strides at work means less attention to what’s happening at home.

The paradox is not a politically-correct concept, but it’s an unwavering realism that leaders must prepare for personally, as well as prepare for their families so that everyone has proper expectations and can support each other as needed. If managing the challenges of this paradox scares you away from leadership, so much the better for you and your family. Leadership entails tremendous personal sacrifice, and anyone wanting the top positions should understand that reality upfront. The ones who accept and manage the paradox will be strong leaders, and ultimately strong role models and figure heads at home.

Keith Kefgen and James Houran, PhD. are the CEO and managing directors of AETHOS Consulting Group, a hospitality-focused human capital advisory, and the authors of Loneliness of Leadership -  the result of a three-year study of C-suite executives in lodging, restaurants, gaming and other hospitality sectors. They are also the founders of 20|20 Assess - a wholly owned subsidiary of AETHOS Consulting Group and a proprietary suite of hospitality-specific HR and leadership software for performance management.

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