By: Les McKeown
It’s time to stop making a excuses. If you want to be a leader, there’s nothing holding you back.
This is a familiar dynamic: After facilitating a coaching or training session, or after speaking at a conference, two groups of people form around the speaker in concentric circles. The first, inner group are leaders who want to know more. The second, outer group, hanging back a little meekly are the wanna-be leaders.
The conversations I have with both groups are always fascinating. It’s why I do what I do, after all. But interestingly, it’s the conversations with the second group, the not-yet leaders, that most often follow the same pattern.
You’d think that people who want to be leaders (but aren’t yet), would each be in that position for highly individual and therefore unpredictable reasons. But mostly I hear people share the same three reasons over and over again, as to why they haven’t yet started leading:
1. I’m not in a leadership position. The most common reason wanna-be leaders give for not actually being a leader, is that they’re not yet in a leadership position, which is usually defined (in their mind, at least) as having a team to lead, people to delegate to, or at least having some seniority in their organization.
Here’s the thing: Leaders aren’t created upon arrival in a position. Leaders are recognized as such, and then placed in positions of leadership.
If you’re truly intent on being a leader, then that’s precisely what you need to do: Lead. Now. From where you are. And if you can’t take the CEO position and lead the organization–even if you can’t even take a managerial position and lead the accounts payable department–there are a hundred other ways you can lead.
Find ways to do what you do, better. Step in when others are uncertain. Be generous and unsparing with your ideas, (thought-through) opinions and time. Take risks. Be creative and flexible. Above all, add value. And do it now, from where you are.
2. I need someone’s permission. This excuse comes in many varieties. Sometimes it’s professional (“I don’t have the letters after my name that my peer group have, so they won’t respect my leadership”); sometimes it’s organizational (“My boss / my job description / my daily activities aren’t explicit about me being a leader, so I’ll look presumptuous if I start”), and sometimes it’s personal (“I’m only [some age] / I’ve never [accomplished some goal] / I didn’t [go to some school / get some degree]”).
Look, to get started as a leader, the only person you need permission from is you.
Yes, after you’ve begun to lead, you will need other people’s permission, in the form of them accepting your leadership. And maybe you’ll suck at it and your leadership career will be short-lived. But you’ll never know until you start, and the only person who can fire the starting gun on your leadership is…you.
3. I have this role model… / I can’t find a role model… One of the most debilitating barriers to starting to lead is also one that’s filled with irony–the chicken-in-a-headlight paralysis that can arise from either having a leadership role model who is frighteningly intimidating–or from having no role model at all.
As with the other excuses above (yes, I’ve used them both in the past, many times), I know whereof I speak: My first professional mentor happened to be one of the most brilliant members of my (then) profession of his generation. And if I’d waited to come out of his shadow, I’d still be a rookie CPA making coffee for my colleagues.
Then 30 years ago when I decided to leave the accounting profession to become a serial entrepreneur, I experienced what it’s like to strike out into an occupation bereft of role models (this was long before the rise of the start-up zeitgeist, and serial entrepreneurs in the UK–where I then lived–were few and far between). The only way to get started was…to get started.
So if you’re serious about starting your leadership career, there’s one thing that you need to decide, today: Be your own role model.