“People keep telling me I’m a leader, but I’ve never really seen myself that way. Now I find myself in this leadership role, and I don’t really know how it’s supposed to look.”
Sometimes my coaching clients say things like this. They feel overwhelmed by the expectations of leadership and feel like imposters in their roles. Leadership seems like a mysterious locked box that has been dropped into their laps, and they don’t believe they have the keys to open it.
Part of the reason for this is that our society has made skilled leadership into a science and an industry. The proliferation of how-to manuals, inspiring success stories, seminars, and mimicry sends the message that people must be taught everything they need to know about how to lead others. It suggests people aren’t really qualified to lead unless they’ve mastered the skill of imitating someone else’s style and success. It’s easy to get the impression that all the things that make us unique are liabilities.
But the various aspects of your personality aren’t problems; they’re potential assets. And if you’ve been tapped for a formal leadership role, it’s probably because people have already seen your natural leadership skills at work. Chances are, you’re already leading others. You already have instincts and innate abilities that will form the core of your leadership style.
Leadership is not rocket science. It does involve its own kind of science, but it’s also an art. And the way you express yourself as a leadership artist will be different from the way anyone else does. Leadership is jazz, to borrow from Max DePree, writer of one of my favorite books on leadership. It unfolds as you learn to play in harmony with other people and riff on their strengths. There’s no one right way to lead others, just as there is no one right way to compose or improvise jazz music–or to be a human being.
Our unique personalities and strengths are important assets we bring to our leadership opportunities. And the healthiest, most effective leaders out there are people who are comfortable being themselves. They’re not seeking to prove anything or to elevate themselves above others for the sake of their self-confidence. In fact, they’re content to serve. Being a great leader is more about being a great person than applying a great set of skills. Approach it as your authentic self, and you will be far more successful than if you try to imitate someone else.
So how do you recognize and embrace your own leadership style? Here are five questions that can help you identify how you tend to approach people and leadership situations:
1. What do people consistently ask you for?
Throughout your life, people have looked to you for something: compassion, a strong representative voice, courageous advocacy, inspiring words, an example of excellence. This is a clue to the way you lead.
2. What do you wish people would ask you for?
You might feel there’s a specific way you could make an important contribution if you had the chance. What is it that’s poised to show itself and make an impact on the people around you?
3. What makes you feel you’re in the zone?
That feeling you get when you’re at your best–hitting all the right notes–is worth paying attention to. It points to aptitudes and drivers that help determine the way you approach leadership.
4. In what way(s) do you wish all other leaders were like you?
It’s OK to admit it. We all tend to think the world would work better if everyone was like us (it definitely wouldn’t). The deficiencies you tend to notice in other leaders speak to your values and perhaps your own approach to leadership.
5. What do I most want to change about my organization?
The things that bother you most probably conflict with what you value most. And those values will drive your approach to leadership.
Your answers reflect your style and probably your capabilities. Think through them and notice the portrait they paint. You’re already building your leadership style around your strengths. There is room for you to recognize your weaknesses, dysfunction, and potential pitfalls. There are times when it’s a good idea turn down the volume on your strengths themselves. Certainly it’s a good idea to gain new skills and strengthen the ones you have. And it’s always important to be in the process of becoming a healthier, more functional version of yourself. But there’s no need for you to stop being yourself or copy someone else. Identify your style and wield it well. Play a tune no one else can play.
© 2017 Amy Simpson.