I am amazed at the similarities we all have when it comes to fear. Having been in leadership positions since I was quite young, I can honestly say that I feel as much or more fear than most. So leaders are not those without fear, but those who lean in and engage even though they are afraid. In this post I’d like to examine the two biggest reasons we tell ourselves we shouldn’t engage. And hopefully invite us to a better way.
First of all we don’t engage because of expectations. I am amazed how often what is expected enters into our thoughts as leaders. Many of us allow the thoughts of what people will think about our action or lack of action to shape our action. I find this noteworthy, because the idea of being a leader is taking people where they aren’t currently (and often are unaware they need to go or flat out don’t want to go). Yet we tell ourselves things like, “no one expects you to have to do ‘x'” or “your precedesor never did ‘x’ so you don’t need to either”. The struggle is ‘x’ is often a key step that will take the organization or person forward. In fact not doing ‘x’ could the reason the organization is stalled or stuck and hindered from growing. In order to lead forward, a good leader needs to take the time to examine the unspoken expectations. It may help to even write out the filters we are telling ourselves and examine whether they are legitimate or not. In addition, that list may also contain the very thing we need to do in order to take the organization, family or group forward.
The second reason we often don’t engage relates to a perceived lack of knowledge or ability. We tell ourselves that even if we did step up and engage in that issue, we wouldn’t know what to do once we got there. Whether we are afraid of being found out (as not having all the answers) or afraid of looking stupid – the reality is we stay safe on the sidelines when we’re being called into the game. Here’s the truth: we don’t know what to do and we don’t know how to do it. My guess is if we did, we would have already engaged in that issue. So once again, I will say, it’s the very act of showing up in that situation, problem or circumstance that propels us forward. If we stay comfortably on the sidelines we will not grow and the organization will not move forward. If we choose to engage, even without knowing the solution it will compel us to discover the answer, seek the resources, talk to others, take the class, read the book, or enlist the coaching. This will not only help us grow (and learn new information and skills) but will also move the organization, family or group to the next level.
Bottomline? Good leadership is often just showing up. Sure no one may expect it or blame you for not. Sure you may not know what to do or how to do it. But leaders show up, leaders engage – they lean in, step up and move forward. They refuse to let excuses, blame, other’s opinions or even lack of knowledge to hinder what needs to happen. I’m not sure what that situation is for you right now, but I think there is a good chance that there is something. And it’s that something that holds the potential to be the personal or organizational breakthrough you’ve been searching for. So show up and engage in whatever it is.