Getting Started in Leadership
Our earliest leadership opportunities are often found by accident.
We start by filling a gap. When those around us are not sure what to do, we step in and help figure it out. We begin leading long before we ever have a title that says we should be.
If we continue filling those needs, eventually we may find ourselves responsible for others. Filling bigger and bigger gaps. Serving more and more people. People who look to us for their guidance and direction.
Coming to leadership by accident, we may not even realize what has happened. Until we look around and see that we have followers. Ones that stick with us as our careers shift and grow.
The Leadership “It” Factor
So what makes the difference between those that lead and those who are led? What is that “it” factor that makes us so willing to follow certain individuals?
We may not always be able to describe what those individuals have that makes such a difference. But we know it. We feel it.
Yet, if we aspire to leadership – or to move from accidental to intentional leadership – we must be able to describe it, identify it, and ultimately attain it.
So, what is “it”?
“It” is three things. Three things that successful leaders have, regardless of position or responsibility. Three things critical to their ability to lead, and our comfort with following.
Great Leaders Know Their Voice
Whether it’s on the playground, on a project, or in a meeting, those who are willing to step forward and speak up are the ones we pay attention to.
They don’t have to be the loudest, and often aren’t. However, they are the ones whose voice we look to in times of uncertainty.
All of us have fears and doubts. Yet, while our inner dialogue may be keeping us from speaking up, a leader’s voice carries confidence. They do not let the voice of doubt drown it out.
Successful leaders share thoughts and ideas when they believe their point of view will move the conversation forward. They understand the value they bring to the discussion, as well as the value of others.
Having a voice is not about being the loudest, saying the most words, or even being heard.
It’s about knowing the answer is always no if you don’t ask. That their feedback could make the difference between a good solution and a mediocre one. That whatever question they have is one someone else is thinking and likely won’t ask.
Great Leaders Know Their Gift
Every person, and every leader, is different. Great leaders understand their individual contribution and how it brings value to others.
Our unique gifts are like a superhero’s powers. They may not be strength or super-speed, but are no less powerful.
Great leaders understand their gifts – the value-add that they bring, and would be lost if they were not part of a group, organization or solution.
The gifts could be compassion, active listening, or creative problem solving. The list is as endless and varied as there are leaders willing to share them.
Ultimately one of the reasons why we follow the people we do, is that we inherently recognize and value their unique gifts, whatever they may be.
When someone is in touch with their gifts, accidental leadership can be transformed into leadership with purpose. It also allows leaders to help others recognize and celebrate their gifts, because they have been through a similar journey.
Great Leaders Know Their Center
We all recognize people we prefer to work, engage and interact with. And those we don’t.
The ones we gravitate toward tend to have values we admire or share. These might be integrity, compassion, transparency, or others.
All leaders have an inner fire. It is fueled by the values and characteristics that guide them on the right way to do things. The right way to treat people.
Great leaders know the fire that guides them. They live their values and characteristics without compromise. They can tell you what is important to them and why.
These leaders know their center – their true north. In turn, they become the compass that guides us when the way is unclear.
Committing to Intentional Leadership
Many of us are thrust into leadership positions with little or no preparation.
Maybe we are accidental leaders, finding that others tend to follow us and there might be something to this leadership thing.
Maybe we are well into our journey, and we don’t yet have confidence in our worthiness of being followed.
Maybe we tend to follow others, and we have a fire in our belly that says it’s time raise our hand and step out front.
No matter where we are in our journey, we can move toward intentional leadership.
We can find our voice, growing confidence that our words have value and are worth contributing.
We can find our gift, embracing that which makes us different and see it as a powerful catalyst to change the world around us for the better.
We can find our center, identifying and LIVING those characteristics that resonate with us at our core, reflecting who and how we want to be as leaders.
What other similarities do successful leaders share? I would love if you could share your thoughts in the comments and keep the conversation going.
I have created this infographic as a reference to the aspirations we share as we move from accidental to intentional leadership. I hope you find it useful as you move forward in your leadership journey.