I hear it all the time from my coaching clients, “I want to get to the next level and in order to do that, I have to take on a leadership role.”

“Really? And do you want to be a leader?”

“I don’t know, seems like I have to if I want to get ahead.”

This is a treacherous and potentially dangerous train of thought; one that could do more harm to a career than good. Why? Because, not everyone is cut out to be a leader intellectually, temperamentally, or with regard to energy and emotional strength.

A recent Wall Street Journal article, written by Preston Bottger and Jean-Louis Baroux, poignantly states that the debate as to whether leaders are made or born is “irrelevant.” They argue you don’t necessarily know what you are born with until you question and test yourself as well as ascertain what you really mean by “leading.”

Let’s look at the authors' questions:

How far do you want to go with your career? To answer this question you have to have pretty good insight into your boss’s position, the one above that and probably the next. It’s not really a question about what they “do” but more how and what decisions must be made and your ability to perform and tolerate at a level where the air is thin, the competition fierce, and the consequences of missteps having the potential of impacting not only thousands of employees but stockholders, consumers, and the community.

What and how are you willing to invest to get to the top? How do you feel about having and using power? You’d be in the majority if you said you’re “uncomfortable or somewhat uncomfortable” and in the minority if you reached a high level and did not understand, in fact relish, the energy of influence and final decision-making power brings and demands. As a leader, you have and need to exercise the power of the position and are expected to do so with conviction. As a leader you are more than a change agent, you’re a visionary. You have to create from the abstract, possibly the never tried, while overcoming old beliefs held by others, maybe even you. And of course, leading demands time and energy, some of which may have to be taken away from people and obligations outside of the workplace. These are not commitments of all nighters, or working some weekends, but a dedication to place this work responsibility close to, if not, above all others.

How will you keep it up? I have a friend who rose to the level of CEO of a major international corporation. Early in his career it would have been said he had no chance of reaching this level. He was the “wrong” religion, grew up in the “wrong” part of the country, and went to “a good but not our type of school” and so on. Trying times can make ignorant people see whom they really need and though my friend’s bio was not what they wanted, his talents and vision were what they were desperate for.

A mentor of my friend had only one reservation—did he have the stamina. Did this potential new leader have it in him to do the necessary work for a decade or more? Could he handle the glaring spotlight and criticism that inevitably would come from the industry? Could he withstand the constant resistance he was going to find and was he, literally, physically fit enough to handle the extensive international travel and the day-to-day stress? No one questioned his ability to grow intellectually and remain ahead of the thought curve—a problem for many leaders.

He earned the position, delivered outstanding results, made a ton of money, and proved the naysayers wrong. Would he do it again? He actually did when, post retirement, bad decisions were made that had to be “fixed.” When he talks about those days, does he lament—never. Does he think it took his all—absolutely.

It may seem I’ve given extreme examples of the demands of leadership; however, ask anyone trying to hold together a not-for-profit, keep the schools open while under an austerity budget, or is running a company with a skeleton staff, if they know how far they want to go, what they have invested, and can they keep it up. You will quickly know if you are speaking with a leader.

(c) Jane Cranston.

Author's Bio: 

Jane Cranston is an executive career coach. She works with success-driven executives, managers and leaders to reach their potential, better manage their boss and staff, as well as develop a career strategy to reach goals and aspirations. Jane is the author of Great Job in Tough Times a step-by-step job search system. Click here to subscribe to her twice monthly Competitive Edge Report.