Not Everyone Should Be a Leader

I’ve often thought about how sports serve as a powerful analogy for our professional journeys. 

Just as not every athlete is destined for the front office, not every talented professional is cut out for leadership — and that’s perfectly okay.

We often make the mistake of conflating high performance with leadership potential. It’s a misguided belief that every career path must ultimately lead to management. This mindset traps many in roles they neither desire nor excel at, leading to a cycle of unfulfilled ambitions and ineffective leadership.

Take a look at the sports world. 

We’ve seen countless elite athletes — Hall of Famers even — who were phenomenal on the field but flopped in the front office. These are individuals who mastered their craft, only to be thrust into roles requiring completely different skill sets. The result? Mediocrity — or worse, failure.

The same scenario plays out in the business world all the time. 

High performers are often promoted to leadership roles under the assumption that their success in one area will translate to another. But the competencies required for individual excellence are vastly different from those needed to lead a team. Leadership demands empathy, selflessness, and an unwavering commitment to the success of others — qualities that are not only rare but also diametrically opposed to the skills that make someone a standout individual contributor.

We’ve all seen it: a top performer is promoted, only to struggle and ultimately fail. The skills that made them successful in their previous role — specialization, individual focus, personal accountability — do not align with the demands of leadership, which include managing the performance of others, coaching others to become critical thinkers, and prioritizing collective success over individual accolades.

So why do we keep making this mistake? Why do we insist on pushing people toward leadership roles they neither want nor are suited for? It’s time to challenge the conventional wisdom that leadership is the natural next step for everyone. 

Not everyone is cut out to be a leader, and that’s not just okay — it’s necessary for a balanced, effective organization.

True leaders are those rare individuals who derive more satisfaction from the success of others than from their own achievements. They are the ones who are genuinely interested in developing the capabilities of their team, who lead with empathy, and who are obsessed with coaching and mentoring. 

These are not the clout chasers, the title seekers, or those who view leadership as a status symbol.

So next time you’re eyeing up your star performer for a leadership role, pause for a moment. Ask yourself: does this person have what it takes to lead with humility, commitment, and a genuine desire to see others succeed?

If not, you might be setting them up for a fall.

Leadership isn’t a destination. It’s a journey that requires a heart full of humility and a head full of empathy. Let’s rethink our approach to leadership and focus on nurturing those rare individuals who have what it takes to lead with purpose and passion.

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