In December 2008 I was looking over all the data for the organisation I was about to take over in January. I had all the data back to 2003 and the information was disturbing, to say the least. Not one number was trending upwards. I was 16 days away from my first key leadership responsibility (as in I was THE leader of the organisation) and here I am staring at numbers I knew were forcing me to make some very hard decisions very quickly.
Information in leadership is one thing, emotions are completely another. As I started, listened, understood as best as I could, made sense of the top priorities and made the most significant changes in the organisation’s history for many years in less than 2 months in the top job.
It was rough. It was hard. I had to dig deep with mentors to work out the best way forward. I was clear this was the right way ahead, I wasn’t clear how it would go overall.
Doubts in leadership are normal. Even self doubt in your OWN leadership, that too is normal. You are not perfect, you are not complete, you are not the silver bullet we have been waiting for.
You are, however, a leader, and lead you must.
- With the doubt.
- With the unanswered questions.
- With the wondering about IF this will work.
There isn’t a guarantee, there is more a probability. That is leadership. Particularly when you are navigating people through change, disruption, restrictions and tensions that we are currently making sense of.
On that basis, some doubt in your leadership journey is normal. Some sense of questioning yourself is appropriate, it saves you from both hubris and ignorance and positions you firmly in the place of needing others to shine, a perfect place for a team leader to be.
Dan Rockwell talks about the tensions that self-doubt creates in this way.
“Self-doubt is healthy when it raises intensity, motivates preparation, and inspires vigilance. It’s unhealthy when it paralyses you. Believe in yourself enough to bring self-doubt with you into decisions and commitments. Too much self-doubt blocks progress, prevents connection, creates anxiety, and inspires self-centredness.”
Does any of this sound like you? Me too. Over the years, these are the three questions that haunt every leader I know (in some form or another) are:
1. Do I have the courage?
This speaks to my confidence.
Leadership requires us to do what is right in the context of our mission and in the best interests of the organisation. No single individual is above the mission. For the most part, your leadership comes down to the willingness to make the 10% of decisions that others are not responsible to make, whether they make you popular or not.
It’s perfectly natural to ask, do I have the courage for these decisions? Do I have the courage to follow them through? DO I have the courage to communicate clearly, with empathy and stay the course?
Finding your path to courage is a critical experience of The Exceptional Team Leader.
2. Do I have the skills?
This speaks to my competence.
If courage is something that lives IN you competence is something that comes FROM you. You have to ask yourself if you have the abilities, innate or learned, to lead in these moments.
All the leaders we work with getting to the end of themselves at some time and in some way. The truth isn’t will you run out of skills but WHEN will you run out of skills and WHAT will you do next.
One of the go-to phrases I live by in leadership is from Bennis and Nanus where they say that the thing that develops good leaders from great ones is the ability to develop new skills.
You likely don’t have ALL the skills you need, we all understand that. What you don’t have the latitude for is failing to learn, failing to grow, failing to implement based on your responsibilities and circumstances.
Knowing your current skill set and going with your current skills set is the price of entry for future exceptional team leadership.
3. Will anyone follow me?
This speaks to my influence.
The leaders and teams we work with want to impact more than glory. You want to be able to create something of value. Lead people to a place where they are proud of who they are and what they have done.
And yet, the “Will anyone follow me?” The question haunts every single one of us, more often and more deeply than we care to admit.
Without experience, without a track record, without an opportunity, leaders live with this doubt and can often be accidental about their influence rather than intentional. Unsure as to why it has worked, or not worked and therefore even more unsure as to what to do about it.
The exceptional team leaders we work with are able to navigate deliberate influence, knowing how to cultivate it and what to look for.
Consider this. It’s just us, over a meal, a drink, a coffee. I want you to know, I see you, I get your doubts, your fears, your unanswered questions. These are the things that make you human, honest, authentic. Handling the doubts can make you an empowering leader, addressing the doubts makes you agile and followable.
We want you to be human, not perfect. That’s the starting place for the exceptional team leader.
Stay safe. Stay well.
This is for leaders. I am for leaders.