The Reluctant Leader: Why Confidence Matters

Sometimes people find themselves in positions of leadership before their self-confidence has caught up with them, and are reluctant to lead.

Helping reluctant leaders to see themselves as the leaders they are, can make them more powerful. Here’s a story of why confidence matters.

Yesterday I herded cattle.

Not by myself, but with an eclectic group of 7 other novice city slickers out to try something new.

As we began our journey, I overheard our reluctant young cowgirl guide tell her friend “you know this is just so hard for me, I am not a leader, I am much better at following.”

She then proceeded to guide us on a journey which involved the complex balancing act of leading horses, cows, annoyed bulls, and inexperienced, unconnected strangers. Everyone followed. She knew what she was doing and she taught us well.

Under her competent leadership, we all worked together and herded the cattle just where they needed to go— having fun along the way. When one of us would get mixed up in the middle of the mooing mass, she would shout “you’re a cow!” That was our signal to move to a more productive and safer space. She used everyone’s name, and constantly checked in with each person on their feelings and how they were connecting with their horse.

She was indeed a leader.

Except for one thing.

She lacked confidence which surfaced in the way she spoke of herself.

“Oh, I am not very good at getting people’s attention.” “I really talk too much, it’s not good sometimes I just can’t stop talking.”

I watched as people were leaving, and I am fairly certain this impacted her tips.

She was teaching people what to think about her.

As leaders, what we say about ourselves matters a lot.

How can we help young leaders to feel more confident in their abilities?

 

Everybody into the Pool: Influencing from the Inside

In almost any large organization, there are the folks doing the work that touches customers, and there are the supporting players influencing vital work to make that easier. Except when they don’t. Or, it’s perceived that way.

Today, as we stop the music, I am in a supporting role. Not long ago, I was leading a large line organization. Prior to that staff role, prior to that, line.

I have been talking to everyone I can find about what makes a great influencing player. My favorite metaphor, “get into the pool”.

“I am trying to run a tight synchronized swimming team here. You can’t shout direction from the pool deck. Get in the water. Feel the music first. See how it feels under the water. Try holding your breath while kicking hard. And then, once we are all equally exhausted, I am all ears.”

I love this one, because growing up, I actually was a competitive synchronized swimmer, and yup, my coaches got into the pool all the time.

The other main ideas:

Deeply understand my business

Support my vision and goals

Tell me the truth

Ask what you can do to help

Share what you can

Provide best practices

Lend your expertise

Offer tangible tools

Help me see the future

Ask me lots of questions

Don’t have checklist

Following the Leader? Stop, Notice How It Makes You Feel

There is much we can learn from following. We all find ourselves in positions to follow both great and horrible leaders from time to time. It helps to stop and really pay attention to how we feel during the process.

Pay Attention to Emotions

As leaders, we lead and follow with much intensity. Because we care, the range of emotions is powerful. When we are deeply invested, the wins are that much sweeter. At the same time, disappointments and frustrations can run deep as well. Paying attention to the emotions we experience as followers can help us become more empathetic leaders.

A Lesson from the Mat

I have a yoga instructor who will have us hold a very intense pose, and then say, “Stop. Notice how that makes you feel.” And then, we will go on to a very relaxing pose, and then the same request, “Stop, notice how that makes you feel.” This is useful in teaching us to reflect on the sensations in our bodies and minds–and their causes.

Transferable Feelings

I remember the first time I received some really significant recognition at work. The music blared, the spotlight shown on me. I was escorted onto the stage in front of thousands. Pictures were snapped with top brass… the adrenaline rush was fantastic. As I returned to my seat, my boss pulled me aside and got very serious:

“Never forget how that made you feel. Someday you will be in a decision-making role, and someone will ask you if the investment in these recognition programs is worth it. Today you have your answer.”

He was right. I am often in that decision-making role. I have my answer.

Taking the time to notice how we feel when we are followers, can inform our decisions as leaders. And we are always following someone, no matter whom we are leading.

How do we feel when…

  • someone takes the time to give us really candid feedback?
  • our risk-taking is supported?
  • someone makes a big investment in our careers?
  • someone takes credit for our work?
  • we really screw up?
  • we work really long hours and someone notices?
  • … and no one does?
  • we are talked to with dignity and respect?
  • … or we are not?

It is hard to step back and embrace the learning, particularly when emotions are high. And yet, that may be our biggest opportunity to learn.