When will I be ready for leadership?

In coaching clients on Leadership we’ve noticed an early sticking point. Though different people give different reasons, there’s a common theme: at this point, people seem to be showing resistance to ‘stepping up’ to Leadership. Of course, they don’t accept that it’s resistance; from where they stand it seems ‘impossible’ to assume Leadership, ‘…until…’

Here are some of their ‘untils’:

  • “until ‘they’ accept my role, and I am officially ‘anointed’ as leader”
  • “until I’ve got ‘all my ducks in a row’ – finished everything I have to do”
  • “until I’ve managed some tricky interpersonal issues”
  • “until I’ve got somebody in place to replace me ‘doing’ all the tasks I’m currently spending all my time on”
  • “until I’ve got my MBA”

It’s as though they regard growing into leadership as an incremental process – a place you get to after completing all the prior steps. In fact we’ve occasionally met people who assume that because they have mastered a busy and complex managerial job, they are now qualified as a leader – as if it’s the next step on the career ladder!

A ‘state change’

But growing into leadership isn’t incremental – it’s a ‘state change’. It doesn’t take time; it takes a transformation – of outlook, courage and focus. Most of us still have to manage, even after assuming leadership – we don’t have the luxury of having staff to delegate to, and time in the diary to ‘be a leader’. So management is different from leadership – not better or worse, just a different state.

What’s needed 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 do whatever needs to be done to put the fire out!

You’ll know it when you see it

And you can see it and feel it. If you’ve ever been lucky enough be present when somebody ‘gets’ it, there’s a visible and palpable difference in the way they talk, move and hold themselves from the way they did before. 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 mostly actually ‘management’ – at a very senior level maybe, but management nevertheless. Leaders are as different from managers, as eagles are from chickens – both essential, functional in their own way, but different creatures. And, just as good managers aren’t necessarily good leaders, so great leaders aren’t always good managers. Once you know they are different skill sets, and have experienced the difference between them, then you are well placed to assess your weaknesses and create a development programme to fill the gaps.

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. 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’s it’s appropriate to the situation at hand.

In answer to the question, “When will I be ready for Leadership?”, our answer is “Right now – if you really want to be!”