Positional leadership comes with challenges we tend to experience as hardships:
- Always having enemies. Positional leaders are typically regarded as powerful (sometimes more so than they actually are). Just so, positional leaders often have enemies in the ranks of those whom they’re perceived to have power over: those who weren’t chosen for the position, those in an employment class that defines itself as opposed to the leadership (i.e., labor vs. management), those who have different ideas than the leader’s about how to meet challenges or solve problems.
- Saying the wrong thing. Positional leaders are always being “parsed.” Whatever they say or write is closely analyzed for the use of words or phrases that can be seized and interpreted negatively by the opposition, or for contradictions of what was said on the same topic at other times and in other contexts.
- Losing one’s personal identity. Bill sometimes tells aspiring leaders that one of his main stressors is the fact that “I am never not the President.” At certain high levels, the positional leader is identified with the institution or company that she or he leads, so every personal statement or appearance is an “official” one. The upshot is that there is very little “unofficial” time when one is not being regarded with respect to one’s professional role.
- Being the person where the buck stops. President Harry Truman was famous for displaying “The Buck Stops Here” prominently on his desk, to emphasize that once the issue got to him, his decision was final. Truman did not agonize over a decision once he made it, but he also knew that no decision is well-received by everyone. Agonizing after the fact is perhaps the most frequent and difficult challenge that leaders with final authority (who make numerous consequential decisions) suffer.
This is a partial list, but in these cases additional stress and anxiety can be activated, as well as an extended period of beleaguered reflection and second-guessing. This is largely because we tend to regard such experiences as judgments rather than as information that can usefully, constructively, and creatively inform the recalibration of our professional and personal identity. The blissful leader employs a bias toward maintaining or recovering fullness of being, rather than being diverted from it.