Do you ever feel that you are just too “different”, or too weird, or too ordinary, or maybe even too sensitive or quirky to really be a leader, let alone a successful leader?
Maybe you see all those “shiny branded leaders” out there in your business and think you could never be like that.
Or the people who stand out for you are the “extroverts”, the one’s with impact, confidence and unique personalities and you notice you just can’t help slipping into wanting to ” be like them”?
I so get it. I find that a lot of what is taught about how to grow as a leader, about role modelling yourself on others or behaving in line with a company’s prescribed leadership model just doesn’t feel “true” for a lot of my clients. Whilst there leadership models that I think work, are easy to access and offer pragmatic solutions, what do we do when we find ourselves judging ourselves too harshly against a prevailing model?
Over the years I’ve noticed a pattern that intrigues me: ‘people with potential’ turn up to coaching sessions feeling they need to be something or someone they are not. In their first dialogue with me I find they are trying to force themselves to demonstrate leadership behaviours that simply don’t feel like “them.”
So, we work on this together and by the end of their coaching journey, here are some of the things they tell me they’ve discovered:
- Why their difference, weirdness (and even their ordinariness) is actually their big advantage when it comes to being a successful leader
- Why they thought they needed to have a big personality or have something wildly unique about themselves to stand out and make being a leader work
- What went wrong when they tried too hard to do leadership in the way they saw others doing it
- What they did when they felt overwhelmed by the all the messages about what they “should” do and the experts who say “be a version of xyz person and it will all be OK”
- How they’ve come to understand their own “Leadership Style” which has meant they’ve been able to stay true to themselves at work and still make it work.
There is an activity often used in leadership development workshops in which delegates are asked to name a leader they identify as being a great leader and to explain their reasons for choosing them. This is a very valid exercise to help pull out a set of leader characteristics and demonstrates quite clearly how much we have in common when we consider what we look for in a leader. *
But what if you look at these set of characteristics and feel “I am different”, or “I’m too ordinary to be a leader?”
You look at yourself then you look at someone out there that you admire and see how being a leader works easily for them, yet feels so far away for you?
For example, someone who is charismatic, or great at explaining complex ideas in a simple way or is the person that everyone wants to be friends with.
You think, “of course it works for them because they have this characteristic, they are like that, and if I want it to work, I want to be that way.”
Here the thing, it only works when it’s a characteristic that’s natural to you.
If you tell yourself that being like someone else is the only way to success you will never be successful.
At JMA Leadership, we say: take your difference, whatever that may be – your background, your quietness, your love for numbers etc – whatever it is – and focus on that.
That’s what great leaders do. But so often I notice that people setting out on their leadership journey don’t let themselves do that.
We encourage you to discover and dial-up the thing that makes you different.
There are two ways of thinking about this:
Way of Thinking 1: “I am not enough” – for example: “I organise everything, that must be super boring, my desk drawer, calendar etc are all colour coded and everything’s filed neatly, that’s boring I’ve got to have something big and bold to offer my team,” or …
Way of Thinking 2: “I am too much” – for example: “I am too big, bold and over the top, I need to be more serious, have more gravitas, make points concisely”
Every person I have worked with has at one point thought one of those two things.
You need to get out of these two ways of thinking and work out how your difference is actually your greatest attribute as a leader.
You are either someone trying to be like others and struggling to do so or someone working out your difference and developing their own authentic leadership style.
Being who you are is not a luxury for later – finding that thing about you that you might think is too much or not enough is the doorway to becoming the best leader that you can be.
The greatest thing you have to offer the world is not shadow version of yourself. It takes huge energy pretending to be someone that you’re not. The keeping up of the persona is a huge drain.
And, others can see the incongruence and sniff it a mile away. When you think you’re doing the right thing by trying to be like other successful leaders, it’s highly likely you’re damaging your own credibility, the foundation of good leadership.
Rather than being who you think you should be based on others out there. Be yourself.
Own your difference. Be it. Live it. Trust it.
You are the biggest asset in your business, if you don’t use your asset on its best setting then you’re working 3x as hard for 1/2 the results.
So, if you love the things I talk about in this post you might want get in touch with us via firstname.lastname@example.org or on + 44 1604 6077383 so you can talk with us about how to grow yourself as a leader – your own way.
JMA Leadership – helping you to be a leader without leaving your personality at the door
*For more information, see Kouzes and Posner’s research on Characteristics of Admired Leaders.