I have been thinking a lot about what stops us from rising up in leadership in our homes, offices, classrooms, communities and in the world at large, and I have come up with a few stark answers.
1) Being unclear about your message or point: Many people come to coaching with the basic problem of not knowing what they want to stand for. We find a little pressure helps enormously. (Think of the people you know who inherited money at a young age and how hard it is for them to find a career path vs. someone who HAD to make money right out of high school or college; you get my drift?) Here is how I put the pressure on in the short term, I ask “If you were on your death bed and could say one thing to the whole world, what would you leave us with? What take-away would you offer?” Ask yourself that question and you will be closer to knowing what you want to stand for in life.
On a larger scale, I put pressure on people by setting a deadline for decisions about career risks or changes. I know it seems simple, but it makes a world of difference for your brain. Under a deadline, I am sure you’ve noticed you work more effectively and tap resources that might have otherwise lain dormant. A deadline forces you to get honest with yourself about what you want and what you are willing to do to get it, because you will soon have to live with your choice. Of course, most of us would rather live in limbo land, but that’s not leadership.
2) Brat: I know for me, I always want to cut corners. I am always chasing the moment I can go back to eating ice cream in front of Friday Night Lights (and that does happen with soy ice cream about once a month!) There is a Brat inside each and every one of us that would just like life to be handed to us on a silver platter. Brat and leadership cannot co-exist. We help our clients get their bratty tendencies on a leash by telling the truth about them (and laughing) and then setting promises to keep them at bay. For example, I have a rule that I am not allowed to throw (grown-up) tantrums at work in order to get my way or else I owe my boss $50. Honestly, once I realize I am doing it, it’s embarrassing and costly to general morale, so I don’t mind paying, righting my record and getting back on track with leading.
3) Chicken: Being a leader means people will look at you, watch you more closely and yes, judge you. There is no way around it. You do it with all the leaders who dare suggest to you what to do or how to think. I remember every church or synagogue service I ever attended as a simultaneous broadcast of the preacher and my inner dialogue judging the preacher. Do note, if you are judging your yoga teachers, spiritual leaders or bosses at work, it probably means you want their job and think you could do it better, but are too chicken to admit it. Because we know how strongly we judge, we fear being judged by others. Know you are going to be judged and busy yourself with setting standards that YOU want to meet and then meeting them. Promises come in handy here, too.
4) Pride: We all make mistakes and have negative qualities. It’s hard for anyone to admit when he or she is wrong, but it’s especially hard when you are the leader and you have to admit it up and down the pecking order, or in front of everyone. At Handel, we make telling on ourselves a common practice, but it’s still hot-face-worthy work. And, we recognize how unique this culture is to be so inviting and forgiving. In most communities, admitting you’ve been a jerk is a big risk and pride prevents you from doing it, even if it would be the quickest way to resolve conflict, upgrade a system and/or improve your ability to lead.
A few months back, I had to tell a co-worker that I thought I could do something better than she could. It turned out I was wrong, but as long as I didn’t let that “truth” hit the light of day, I believed it. I am sure you can imagine how much I did not want to admit out loud that disgusting judgment. Whenever I cop to something, as soon as I say it, it’s not true anymore; communication, leadership and affinity can be restored. Once it’s said out loud, it’s as if something about the words meeting with the air changes it (like iron oxidizing into rust) and it becomes absurd. We can all get back to work and I can go back to leading, not from on high, above others, but from a place grounded in my own integrity. I know I am not perfect, so I am open to feedback, and I promise to always look for my weaknesses and mistakes and own up to them. I know I have to keep telling the truth in order to keep myself trustworthy and safe to those around me.
5) Control: Part of great leadership means letting others rise up around you and relinquishing some control. Great leaders make other people great. I am just a baby at learning this level of leadership, so I will hold off on too much explanation for now. But let’s keep it as a place holder for a later blog.
Do you see the obstacles to your leadership? Do you believe being a great leader is something you can train yourself to be? We do! I hope you are inspired by my willingness to tell the truth about my misguided thoughts and impulses, and you consider how it applies to you. Wanna get your bravery jumpstarted? Write a comment below about which obstacle you are facing right now and how you are going to defeat it.
P.S. – Want more leadership coaching? Not scared off by my human nature? Come to the one-hour teleseminar I am leading on Thursday, July 7, called Inspired Leadership.