November 22

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You Owe It to the World to Become the Leader You Are

If you are already committed to becoming the leader you could be, then just stop reading now.

This article’s message will make you yawn and roll your eyes.

For everyone else, let’s start with the talk that I give myself and my coaching clients. And, well, everyone else who has something to offer but is too shy to actually share it. 

You owe it to the world to become the leader you could be. That’s not true for everyone—but for people who have something helpful to offer to the world and who want to make a positive difference.

If that is you, then you owe it to the world—you owe it to all of the people you could help—to figure out how to make the difference that you know you could make.

That difference could be you leading a team. Or publishing your thoughts on a platform where people can find it. Maybe it’s about unraveling a toxic family system and deciding that the buck stops with you.

Here’s what might be holding you back. Do you have a belief (even if it’s just a subconscious one) that people who are in their leadership are power-hungry manipulators?

The truth is that some so-called leaders are. They are terrible people. And I totally get that the last thing you want is to be like them.  

There are two ways not to be an unethical leader:

  1. Avoid stepping into your leadership at all costs.
  2. Use your leadership skills for something good.  

I used to follow the first path. I avoided being in a position where I could influence something because I thought having influence over others is evil. Then I realized that that’s not true… if people who want to do good hide in a corner, who do you think will be the ones left?

So, here are some thoughts for all of us who want to do the right thing and who are gradually embracing our leadership more.

1. Real leadership requires strength and humility

“You need to come right now and talk to them.”

A few volunteers were unhappy due to interpersonal conflict and so I had rushed to get the workshop leader.

This person, let’s call him Nate (not his real name), did something uncommon. He stopped and listened to their complaints. Fully. He didn’t defend himself. He took in their feedback.

Nate did all this without either puffing himself up or crumbling down. He was both in his power and open to what others had to say. That combination of strength and humility turned things around.

It was a rare spectacle, one about as uncommon as seeing a lion cub who’s being raised by apes. And so I took it in with a sense of wonder. I was impressed with seeing a level of leadership I had never seen before.

Most people can only do one at a time, strength or humility. More authoritarian leaders will opt for strength (and no humility). People who avoid stepping into their leadership can do humility well (but forget the strength).

Are you willing to be the ape who raises a lion cub? Are you willing to do something that feels uncomfortable? Are you willing to do both strength and humility?

2. No, you’re not great at everything

“You don’t have to be great at everything. In fact, you aren’t.”

It took me a few weeks—and one personality test—to take that to heart.

What I realized is this: we all have different strengths and weaknesses.

Imagine if someone claimed: I’m the best.  

What are they the best at? Does this tell you anything useful? Nope.

Would you want to entrust them with anything?

Hell no. 

You already have your strength and weaknesses, even if you don’t mean to.

So stop delaying the inevitable and acknowledge your strengths and weaknesses.

3. Leadership is about having an impact

There was a time in human history when leadership was pretty inaccessible to most humans. There were a few positions you could have that granted you some version of leadership… and many of them were hereditary and almost all were reserved for men.

You either were born in or out. If you were born “in,” you could often just roll ride on that wave (if you were born “out,” there wasn’t that much you could do to change it). Back then, leadership was about birth and title (be born a certain way so you get the title that will have people see you as a leader).

Then, things changed. The world got more democratic. People got the right to express their opinion. This new world is how someone I know who grew up on a farm was able to work her way up to a position where she supervised dozens of people. She wasn’t born “in” but once she worked her way “in,” she stayed “in.” At that point, leadership was about effort and position (put in the effort to get the position that will let people see you as a leader).

Things changed even more when the internet became a thing. Suddenly, every kid with access to the internet could share their thoughts online or start a company (whereas a few centuries ago, many people couldn’t even read). And in a strange way, it seemed like the concept of leadership dissolved or lost some of its meaning.

Of course, that didn’t really happen. Today, leadership is about having an impact, in a small or a big way. That impact might be getting one child to start reading a book. Or creating peace in a war-torn area. But it certainly isn’t something static, something you do once and then are done with it. With each action, you choose whether you’re “in” or “out.”

The size of the impact doesn’t matter. But if you’re not having an impact, you’re not a leader (regardless of your title or your position).

4. Leadership starts right where you’re at

You gave a TEDx talk once so that gives you the right to call yourself a leader.  

Not true.

Why should strangers trust you if those closest to you don’t?

Let me give you one more piece of advice:

Always, always, always start where you’re at.

You need to start at home.

So that’s it — when you start stepping more into your leadership, you don’t need to worry about strategy or technique.

Instead, begin on the emotional level.

Are you willing to be uncomfortable by showing both strength and humility?

Do you have the self-awareness to acknowledge your strength and weaknesses?

Can you focus on having an impact and earn the right to call yourself a leader again and again and again?

And, finally, do you have the guts to start at home?

P.S.: I modeled this article after Tony Stubblebine's great article "Marketing is your moral obligation" (to improve my writing by learning from a great writer).

If you haven't yet read Tony's article, you definitely should! It changed how I felt about marketing. 

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