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Focus on what you CAN do. You CAN be a leader.

We too often obsess over what we can’t do. That blinds us to what we can do. And each and every one of us can––and should be a leader.

When I do an 8 STRATEGIES for ASPIRING LEADERS workshop I can almost guarantee that I’ll hear some form of one of the following lament:

“I’d do more, but I just don’t have the power!”

And for good measure we can add: “And even when I do––nobody notices!”

My stock answer is: “Knock it off!”

It’s time to step up. Stop worrying about what you can’t do and start focusing on what you can do.

There are many things an aspiring or emerging leader can do to help the organization and advance your career no matter what it says on the nameplate on your office door––and even if you don’t yet have your own office.

#1 Work first on being a good follower.

Leadership and "followership" are not fixed positions, but rather interchangeable roles. The best leaders are those who understand this dynamic and can make the switch when needed.

It’s important to learn when to consider and implement the ideas of people around you, even those who might technically be your subordinates. Most of the working experiential capital resides on the front lines, not in the c-suite and some of the most powerful solutions and innovations will come from the bottom up––if you’re willing to pay attention.

Before you accept your first official leadership position, being a good follower means practicing respect and deference to the people who have proven themselves. None of us usually understands all the factors that go into any particular decision, but it’s important to respect and support those decisions, not undermine them. (Providing they’re ethical––of course!)

#2 Find the right Master.

Our SL 15 survey for aspiring leaders includes two important questions. The first is how important a mentor is to your personal and professional success.

In the past 5 years we have not had anyone answer anything but “important” or “very important.”

The follow up question is: “Are you currently working with a mentor?” Care to guess the results? Only around 30%. Most say the problem is that nobody has approached them.

The old proverb says that “When the student is ready––the teacher will appear.” That’s a radically misunderstood bit of wisdom. The original meaning behind this is that it’s up to prepare yourself so that when the right teacher comes along, you’ll be fully ready to accept and absorb their teaching.

There are several factors that go into finding the right mentor, but the most important one is to start looking!

#3 Commit yourself to personal and professional Mastery.

Perfection is not a destination––it’s a never ending process. Any credentials we earn, from a Black Belt to an MBA are not an end to this process, but rather a new beginning.

If you want people to notice your talents, skills and abilities––show them that you’re fully committed to continual learning, growth and development.

In martial arts we call this mindset “Beginner’s Mind.” Not ironically, this is the mind of a genuine Master. Approach each new day and each new opportunity with a sense of wonder, curiosity and positive ambition and you’ll be noticed.

#4 Ask before you’re asked––Act before you’re asked.

This one goes right to the heart of the power dilemma, so let’s quickly define some terms.

First, power is your ability or capacity to act or perform effectively. Too often when I hear people complain they don’t have power, they’re confusing power with authority.

Authority is a formal sanction to issue directives and make substantive decisions. It comes along with an expectation that those directives will followed and those decisions respected.

You don’t need authority to express power. In fact, many of the most important contributions in any organization come from people who have little or no formal authority.

If you have ambitions to earn your place in management, then start expressing your power now. The simplest way is to do your job––and do it well.

Above that, when you see something that needs doing, do it! Regardless of whether it doesn’t quite fall into your “job description.”

Of course you don’t want to step on toes or go over heads, so be aware of when it’s appropriate to ask first. But ask first! This means you’re not going to wait around for someone to ask you to go the extra mile, you’re going to ask for opportunities to rise above your pay grade.

#5 Learn to deal with uncertainty.

One of the most determinant factors in assessing leadership potential is the ability to deal with uncertainty. Unfortunately, studies continue to show that fewer people are strong in this area, particularly aspiring leaders.

There’s only one way to become more comfortable with uncertainty and that’s to expose yourself to it. Be mindful of STRATEGY #4 and seek out opportunities to test yourself beyond your comfort level.

This also requires a deep self-awareness, another trait that needs bolstering at all levels of leadership. You need to develop the capacity to assess what you can and cannot predict at any given time. You also need to cultivate an undying enthusiasm for training and preparation––that’s how you find more comfort when dealing with the unexpected.

There’s an aspect of self-certainty that needs attention too. Interestingly, studies have shown clearly that people have more respect and trust in leaders who are a bit uncertain––provided they handle it well. This means leaders in touch with their limitations and who are willing to reach out when they don’t have all the answers. Contrast that to someone who claims to––have all the answers that is. How do you feel about them?

#6 Learn to talk and write good.

If you don’t get the joke, we’ve got a lot of work to do! (And we’re not going to finish that job in one workshop!)

It’s no secret that despite our incredible capacity to communicate without any technical restrictions, our ability to express ourselves clearly, articulately and persuasively is in grave danger of extinction.

In plain English: We can communicate with damn near anyone on earth anytime we want––but we just can’t make ourselves understood.

The most effective leaders are effective communicators. They’re able to inspire, empower and guide others largely because of their ability to communicate clearly and effectively.

The absolute best are actively engaged in learning and adopting new technologies and better methods of communication. And they’re constantly working on the basics––the simple but sometimes difficult process of simply talking with and listening to another human being.

#7 Focus on experience over rewards.

This is a tough one. I don’t blame anyone for wanting to cash in on years of study or hard work. However––it’s important to weigh the long term benefits of experience over any short-term advantages in material rewards.

All things being relatively equivalent, the opportunity for greater responsibility, talent expanding challenges and of course, leadership usually produce exponential rewards over time.

#8 Lead by sharing.

This is the most important STRATEGY in the set and ties all the others together.

Effective leaders share power and authority. They share knowledge, experience and wisdom. They share empathy and compassion.

As an aspiring leader your sharing might be concentrated in your enthusiasm, your time, your ideas and your willingness to help those around you.

How much are you willing to share? That’s a question a leader must constantly ask––at any level.

I can say this with absolute certainty. You will grow as a person and as leader in direct proportion to what you’re willing to share with others.

Leadership is sharing. A leader shares.

You might add some more strategies…

That happens a lot in our workshops. But be sure you pay attention to these fundamentals. If you have your sites set on leadership, you can always find more to do, but I can tell you from experience that it’s nearly impossible to become an effective leader by doing less.

There are just two types of people in the world today: Leaders––and those who refuse to be.

That’s not meant to be disparaging in any way. Some people simply don’t want the responsibility and risks that go with leadership––though I have to say I just heard a very compelling argument that most people are leaders in some capacity whether they know it or not!

And please remember that leadership has nothing to do with authority. You don’t need a rank, title, diploma, certificate or position of authority to be a genuine and effective leader.

The important point here is that over thousands of years of human history it’s been proven that the best path to a satisfying, fulfilling, joyful and successful life is leadership. Leaders get ahead––however you chose to define that. Leaders get things done. Leaders create change. Leaders transform lives––and transform themselves.

The question isn’t whether or not you should embrace being a leader. The question is whether or not you want to.

Once you take that step––once you step up to leadership––then we can begin the work.



Friday, December 7th

UNUM Headquarters, Portland, Maine

8 am to Noon

ALL proceeds benefit Boots2Roots––enabling Maine’s newest active duty veterans to hit the ground running and add new energy to Maine’s workforce!

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