“Leading a team requires that we stop needing to be the star and, instead, champion the success of our employees.” – Misti Burmeister 

If you’re in a leadership position, it’s probably safe to say that you know how to work hard and/or smart. After all, if you hadn’t proven yourself, why would anyone have put you in charge?

That said, there is a difference between being the champion and championing another person’s success.

After a recent panel discussion on visionary leadership, Todd, a sales manager for a technology company, asked me for feedback about one of his direct reports. 

“This guy comes in at 7:00 a.m. and doesn`t leave until 7:00 p.m.,” Todd explained. “He works hard and does everything I tell him to do. But he can`t seem to close the sale.”

Though Todd was struggling with leading his employee, he was clearly a talented salesman. He spent the next 10 minutes telling me about his sales ability. “I`ve been my boss’s number one guy for many years,” Todd said. “I`ve won lots of awards, and he is constantly telling me how great I am.”

I asked, “What would happen if this guy you`re leading started closing all those deals?” 

“We`d make more money for the company.”

 “And what would happen to your status as the super-star performer?” I asked. He got quiet, so I continued, “Do you love leading others? Or would you prefer to simply sell?”

 Todd was standing on a big opportunity either way – to be a leader or the champion salesman. But if he wanted to mold this guy into a champion, Todd’s competitive nature (and focus) would have to shift.

Leading a team requires that we stop needing to be the star and, instead, champion the success of our employees. There’s an important question that few people ask themselves before taking on a leadership position: Do I want to lead others, or do I enjoy doing the work?

Not everyone wants to lead. Sometimes, we become leaders – either because we sought out the position or had it thrust upon us – and then realize it’s not how we want to contribute.

How do you know whether you want to shift from being the champion to championing others’ success? 

  1. Serve. Sometimes, regardless of what we want, our teams need us to step up and become leaders. Take these opportunities to stretch and grow – personally and professionally. You might really like leadership.
  2. Whoa! While leadership may be a smart career move, it’s also important to enjoy contributing. If you take on a leadership position and then realize it’s not your strength, or just not what you want to do, find someone to fill your role.
  3. Wham! When you say “yes” to opportunities to step up, even those you don’t really want, and then do a good job, you get closer to the career of your dreams. As Robert Richman, former Culture Strategist for Zappos turned successful entrepreneur, shared with me during an interview, “When you’re asked to take on new roles, just keep on committing.” 

Champions define success by how well they perform. Leaders define success by how well their teams perform. Both are perfectly valid and productive perspectives, and both roles are necessary. There’s no right answer, only the best answer for you. I say give leadership a try. And if you don’t like it, go be the best darned champion you can be. 

Keeping it simple,

Misti Burmeister, best-selling author of From Boomers to Bloggers: Success Strategies Across Generations and Hidden Heroes.