Recently I was speaking with a Gen Y professional on the phone during a sort of coaching conversation when the following took place.
“I want to be a leader, but I keep tripping myself up,” he said, sounding frustrated. That’s not a verbatim quote, but it was something like that.
But you already are a leader, I thought to myself.
“There’s no way I’ll ever be a CEO,” he mumbled, still forlorn.
“Why are you worried about being a CEO?” I asked.
“Because that’s like the epitome of leadership,” he said. “And Sara [name substituted] said I could be one someday.”
“It wouldn’t surprise me a bit if you did become one,” I said. “But I’m still not sure why you’re worried about that right now.”
“Well I can’t be a CEO and keep screwing things up.”
I snorted. You cannot be serious, I thought to myself.
“You don’t think executives screw things up?”
“Well no I just meant that –”
“Meant what?” I said, cutting him off. “You’ve convinced yourself of so many leadership lies that you almost don’t know which way is up.”
Managers, front line folks, leaders, aspiring leaders, execs — we all fall for leadership lies sometimes. They’re these myths that we believe for some strange reason, and not only do we believe them, but we remind ourselves of their veracity over and over and over again.
Here are a few I here with more frequency.
1. “I want to be a leader, but [insert random excuse here.]”
I like big buts and I cannot lie, you other brothers can’t deny…
Except in this situation here, where the buts are subconscious parachutes. If you really, truly want to lead, then lead. Brilliant, right? I’ve yet to hear of an organization telling someone to stop demonstrating leadership ability.
2. “I need a title to lead.”
Repeat after me: A title does not make you a leader any more than dressing in a bedazzled white jumpsuit makes you Elvis.
I think the fixation comes from so many years within which rigidly hierarchical power structures squelched any and all initiative, independent thought, etc. But it’s 2013 kids. Sure, there are still some really anal organizations, but they’re increasingly full of anal people who dig that sort of thing. For the rest of us, there are options. And when you find yourselves situated somewhere, you can lead, regardless of whether you have what would be considered a formal leadership title or not.
3. “I try to lead but no one follows me.”
Keep this in mind too: leadership may not look exactly like what you thought it would or should.
You’re not going to walk in in the morning and within one hour have every teammate decked out in kilts and blue face paint ready to go to battle. A good place to start would be to read up on servant leadership. A guy named Greenleaf is most responsible for bringing it into the modern era conversation on leadership.
4. The path to leadership is paved by making fewer mistakes.
5. Leaders make fewer mistakes.
False again. They’re human.
So what does that mean for you? It means that if you’re really a leader, you’re going to lead, regardless of what some silly nameplate or awful business card says. Additionally, you’re not going to fall into the trap of thinking that leading is just telling others what to do when in fact it’s more about serving others. So be human. Be you. Serve others. Lead well. The rest will take care of itself.