Are you ever ready for leadership?

How ready do you feel to step up and assume leadership? I don’t mean ‘get promotion’ or ‘take a new role’, though these often require leadership. I mean those situations where you are not empowered, have no authority and people don’t seem to be hanging on your every word, but you know there’s something wrong, or something really needs to be done, and no-one else is coming forward.

Though you may come up with all sorts of reasons, what it really boils down to is that you are resisting stepping up to leadership. Of course, you may not accept that it’s resistance; from where you stand your reasons seem absolutely valid, and it seems impossible to affect the situation.

Here are some typical reasons – do you ever hear yourself saying these things?

  • I’m not paid enough to…
  • I’ll do it when I’ve finished everything else I have to do.
  • I can’t do it while people are getting in my way. I’ll do it when I’ve sorted out all the tricky interpersonal issues.
  • I’ll do it only when I’ve got somebody in place to carry out the tasks I’m currently spending all my time on.
  • I’ll do it when I’ve…got that promotion; been confirmed as team leader; passed my MBA…and so on.

It sounds as if, like many people, you view growing into leadership as an incremental process – a place you get to after completing all the prior steps.

A state change

But assuming leadership isn’t incremental – it’s a state change. It doesn’t take time; it takes a transformation – of outlook, courage and focus. And it doesn’t mean you can suddenly stop managing, either. Most of us still have to manage, even after assuming leadership – we don’t have the luxury of having staff to delegate to, nor time in the diary to ‘be a leader’. So you don’t stop managing when you become a leader: management is different from leadership, not better or worse, just a different state. And both states often have to reside in one person!

What’s needed for leadership is the kind of state change that happens (hopefully!) when you realise you’re the only person who’s noticed the house is on fire. You don’t wait for permission, or to have your position ratified, or for people to like and accept you – you take control. And having assumed leadership, you manage the situation and ensure that whatever needs to be done to put the fire out is done.

You’ll know it when you see it

You can see it and feel it. If you’ve ever been lucky enough be present when somebody ‘gets’ it, there’s an immediate visible and palpable difference in the way they talk, move and hold themselves. What that difference is, will be different from person to person. Some get louder and more obviously forceful; others may remain quiet and unassuming – but you’ll still be able to see the difference.

When you’ve experienced this state change for yourself, you may finally realise that what you have been calling leadership is actually management – at a very senior level maybe, but management nevertheless. Just as great leaders aren’t always good managers, so good managers aren’t necessarily good leaders. Once you know they are different states, with distinct skill sets, and you have experienced the difference between them, then you will be well placed to assess your weaknesses and create a development programme to learn to be both – and to do the things that both states require.

The challenge of being a leader and a manager

The real challenge for most of us is to manage the transition from management to leadership, not on a one-time basis (for we don’t have that luxury), but from moment to moment, day to day, as the requirements change. We need to learn to be both, in response to the differing situations that come up. To be able to do that, we need to have experienced the difference, so we can feel what state we’re in, and check that it’s appropriate to the situation at hand.

In answer to the question, “will I ever be ready for leadership?”, the answer is that you already are – the moment you are really willing to be!

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