March 9, 2020

Can you lead?

People often wonder whether they can lead, at least in part because we make leadership seem like an advanced or rare talent.  We hold ourselves up to heroic figures and think, “I could never be like that.  I’m not that alpha-kind of person.”

At the most basic level, leading is merely the act of getting a group of people to work toward a common goal.

When you work with a customer or a teammate toward an outcome, there is an opportunity for you to lead. Think of leadership as an opportunity that arises.  People often visualize themselves as the masters of their own destiny.  I admit to desiring such over my life.  Objectively, many of the situations we encounter are a combination of events and circumstances well beyond our doing.  Leadership is rarely the situation you create for yourself.  Instead, leadership arises as a vacuum in a situation that needs a little guidance.  It just takes someone with a little courage to step into the empty space.

People with a desire to help and specialized knowledge often find themselves in a position to lead others.  It’s a natural combination sometimes called servant leadership.  Look for opportunities where you can share your expertise or talents with those around you.  Those with a bit of knowledge and a generous heart cause us to move with common purpose.

Why do people find leadership challenging or intimidating?

We expect leaders to behave in a specific way, based on our own personality.  For instance, I like an organized and decisive leader because certainty and order are the habits I use to feel secure.  When we lead based on our own needs, we often fall short of the group’s needs.  My leadership becomes about me, not the goals or needs of the group.

You may find that some people and situations require a more flexible approach to leading if you want to succeed.

A good way to broaden your approach is to watch others you admire.  I did this at work.  I noticed that our Strategy Vice President Adam Ridlon listens to and encourages people, which builds stronger relationships, which in turn causes his leadership to be more broadly accepted.  GL Solutions co-founder Eric Staley argues for the justness of our cause, which leads people to desire the goal.  Product Manager Mike Andrae gives such careful consideration that I feel confident his plan will work.  Operations Vice President Jake Burts’ logic and clarity leads me to trust his insights.  I could go on.  We all lead a little differently.  A variety of abilities work to produce results.

When you are following, you might want to closely observe how people lead.

Merely watching can be a great way to be more objective about leadership.  So what if the person leads differently than your expectations?  Is it effective?  Further, the person might exhibit leading behaviors that you could try on for size.  We work with diverse personalities among our internal and external clients.  You might find that emulating the approach demonstrated by another person helps.

Each of us desires to help our coworkers and clients.  We each have the capacity to step into situations where people need our expertise and desire to help.

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