CXO

Don't Be a Powerless Leader

A client of mine once put it so eloquently: We lead most effectively when we aren’t trying to be a leader.

— Precisely. —

In our over-marketed society, any intentional attempt to lead comes across as a sales message and thus, especially among young people, triggers skepticism and defenses.

We wisely don’t align ourselves with leaders who — even if they can’t see it — send clear signals that they consider themselves to be weak.In something of an irony, it’s your casual, unguarded language, the phrases you use in everyday speech, that tend to influence others much better than your carefully constructed management memos, speeches, or pronouncements. And just as importantly, your unvarnished utterances also betray your true orientation to the world and signal your worthiness as a leader.  

How familiar do these phrases ring?

Well, what can you do?

Nobody asked me.

I didn’t make the decision.

If that’s what they want, I guess that’s what we’ll have to deliver.

Such statements are the speech of an impotent management mindset. And it’s poison in the well of your leadership credibility.

When your colleagues hear declarations of organizational impotence like these coming out of you, they conclude: You see yourself as powerless. You are yielding — giving away — control and influence to others. You don’t have the moxie, the courage, to take a stand, to challenge convention, to do what leaders do.

This isn’t, of course, to suggest that you ought see yourself as omnipotent — you’re not and shouldn’t try to be. Nor is it to say that you can’t ever allow that you lost a political battle, or even share with your team that you see a decision differently from the ultimate decision-maker or influential dissenters. If you sense that you don’t have the confidence of the people you are supposed to lead, you need to understand why that is.

The difference between using the weak language profiled above and taking a contrary stand from a position of strength is in the confidence you feel (and exude) about you and your place in your situation.

A leader who uses weak language believes him|herself to be be weak and most of us know that. So we wisely don’t align ourselves with leaders who — even if they can’t see it — send clear signals that they consider themselves to be weak and unworthy of our full confidence.

In many surveys and studies, people indicate that honesty and credibility are the leadership qualities they find most essential in the people they willingly follow. What is more essential to exuding honesty and credibility than having genuine faith in yourself?

If you sense that you don’t have the confidence of the people you are supposed to lead, you need to understand why that is. In my coaching work with leaders, we often find that it is because the led correctly perceive something the manager has not admitted to himself: That he is missing a feeling of power or competence to affect outcomes on the job — ingredients essential to effective leadership.

Fortunately, with a little work on some underlying distortions in self-perceptions a competent manager can (re)discover his or her capabilities and strengthen latent leadership capability.

To lead others, you must first fully believe in you before asking others to believe in you. Because real leaders have people believing in them even when they aren’t asking them to.

— Don Blohowiak
Leadership Coach

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