It’s easier to show leadership than you think. But before we explore what might be blocking you, we need to agree what it means to show leadership.
The usual image of the leader is that of a larger-than-life person like Martin Luther King or Jack Welsh. No wonder so many potential leaders lack confidence.
Our tendency to look for heroes to look up to is the reason why we focus on such people in our efforts to understand leadership, but this is extremely disempowering for the vast majority of us who will never be anything like Martin Luther King or Jack Welch.
We need a more realistic, human-scale view of leadership, not one based on being a super hero. The truth is that everyone can show some leadership. You may have heard this before, but the usual meaning of this claim is not true at all because it means that virtually everyone can, at least occasionally, take charge and direct the efforts of their colleagues if only on an informal basis. Being a leader in this sense is not so easy and it confuses leadership with management. The real meaning of leadership is simply to promote a better way of doing things. If, after you convince people to buy your idea, you oversee the implementation of your ideas, you are then wearing a managerial hat as well as a leadership one.
To show leadership, all you need to do is convince colleagues that you have an idea worth listening to. It could be a better way of doing the work or even to stop doing something that isn’t very effective. You might even simply convince people to think differently, say about a management decision to introduce an unpopular change. Or, perhaps you can show leadership to your colleagues simply by setting an example, say by working harder, keeping going after a setback, or displaying a consistently positive attitude when the going gets tough.
So, what’s stopping you? The short answer is confidence. The way to build your confidence to show leadership is to start with something easy. This means either an easy change to propose or an easy target to influence. The latter could be someone who normally listens to your suggestions. You could start by picking off one person at a time rather than trying to convince them all at once in a meeting. You could also use influencing tactics that make your proposal as easy to accept as possible.
The more you come across as a know-it-all or create the impression that you think people are stupid, the less likely you are to change their minds.
To avoid making this impression, try drawing your idea out of them by asking questions as if you were asking for their advice. This way, you can almost make them think it is their idea. Another useful technique is to state your idea but ask them what benefits they would see of doing what you suggest. People are often more easily sold on an idea if they state the benefits as they see them than if you tell them what you think they are.
What else might be stopping you? Ask yourself what you have to lose. How important is it for you to be accepted by your group, to not rock the boat, or to seem to have different opinions? Are all your eggs in one basket in the sense that you identify so closely with this particular group that you cannot afford to be rejected by them? Try to convince yourself that people who make good suggestions are respected not rejected.
It is more a matter of how you present your ideas than one of speaking up at all. Your status in the group is likely to be more secure if you gain this respect than if you are seen as such a conformist that you won’t question anything that anyone does or says. The key again, is to start small with easy to swallow proposals and with targets that you think are easier to pick off than others.
By John Benson