Lead, Even When You’re Not In Charge? Of Course!

“Everything’s screwed up. Nothing ever goes right. Employees don’t know what they’re doing. The plan isn’t working. The way we do things makes no sense.” 

Everyone at work has some kind of gripe, and we’re all looking for someone else to blame. Too often, we point the finger at our boss—our leader. 

Who’s really in charge? 

It’s a pretty heavy load being THE leader at work. Somehow the labels of boss, supervisor, or manager don’t seem hefty enough for that. We’d rather think of the “big wigs” as our leaders. But that isn’t how it works.

A leader is anyone who has followers. The role is the same whether you have one follower or thousands. 

Businesses created a platform for leaders. Just look at your organization chart and all those boxes that set up positional leaders. You’re surrounded by leaders at work. 

But it gets trickier, because we each have followers, even when we aren’t a box on that chart. Any time we chair a committee or team, work on a task with a coworker, or propose a new idea, we have the lead. 

Our company’s test our leadership mettle before we have leader titles. They give us assignments that showcase what we’re made of. We get these tests when we’re in entry level positions, on special assignments, and in roles where we’re “out of our element.” 

That’s how it was with Dorothy! 

The Oz Squad!  

You know the Wizard of Oz story: It’s about standing up for what’s right, taking big risks, and working together for mutual benefit. It’s about the natural leadership that surfaces when the chips are down. 

It starts with Dorothy who gets caught up in a tornado that deposits her in a village of Munchkins in a foreign land—a little like that new job or promotion you just got!

She has no idea what to do, no friends (except her dog), and no clear direction. Fortunately, she has a mentor, the good witch, Glinda, who gives her some hot red, magical shoes and coaches to her find Oz, the CEO of the story. Supposedly, the Oz man has the power to get her home. 

Dorothy’s initial action plan is pretty simple: Follow the Yellow Brick Road to Oz. While walking she attracts her following, three characters who each believe they have debilitating limitations—a brainless scarecrow, a heartless tin man, and a cowardly lion. She believes in them, reinforces them, and convinces them that Oz will help them too. (A shared vision is a beautiful thing!) 

It gets complicated when Oz gives the “Dorothy Team” a big assignment to prove their worthiness of Oz-help! They’ve got to bring him the Wicked Witch’s broom—their success measure. There have high risk obstacles to overcome, where Dorothy’s comrades demonstrate their dedication to her and their own commitment. They succeed. 

The big finish is the revelation that Oz is a phony leader, but is he? Didn’t he motivate some big time performance from that troop? 

But it was little ole Dorothy who was the real leader. She set out on a mission and got others to follow, even though she could promise nothing. She was willing to take big risks because her goal was big—get back to Kansas. Her trio had personal wants—traits that would complete them and make them feel empowered. They all took chances to help each other win. 

Get it done! 

You have your own “Dorothy opportunities” at work, like developing better work processes, improving relationships, fixing unsolved problems, or expediting delayed projects. These are things that you can champion. Start with one follower and see how many others you’ll attract along your yellow brick road. 

Taking the lead is one of the smart moves of business fitness. It’s your ultimate opportunity to add value and make an impact no matter what your job. It takes guts to stand up and accept accountability for getting things done. No guts. No glory. Go for it! 

What did you learn when you took the lead? How has it made a difference in your career? Your story will help us!

Wanted: High Flying Career. Will Work Without a Net! | Risking Failure for Success

High wire acts. Acrobats. Human cannonballs. Circus careers come with big performance expectations and high stakes. The consequences of failure can be dire.

Successful circus performers are masters of precision, flexibility, teamwork, and consistency. They own every move they make for their own good and the safety of others.

Flying through the air on a trapeze with no net below is the measure of a career that you own. When you don’t expect to fail, you’ve arrived.

What’s your act? 

Everyone wants an exciting career:

  • Marketing lead on a big account
  • Editor at a hot shot publication
  • Start up business owner
  • Global account exec
  • Ecotourism director 

What does all this take? Do we just grab a chair and dash into a cage with the Bengal tigers, listening for the roar of the crowd? 

A career is a progression of our work life. It doesn’t just appear. The jobs we take are how we get things started. There are no guarantees that those jobs will add up to a career, particularly one that makes us feel successful. We just give it our best shot.

Risk is the route to reward!

Fear is the death knell for our careers: fear of failure, the boss, new assignments, change, or rocking the boat.

Playing the game to get a raise, promotion, or plum assignment isn’t risk taking. It’s maneuvering within the safe zone.

Career risks are about owning your choices and the consequences of your decisions, good or bad. That’s when you feel the exhilaration of flying through the air without a tether or that proverbial net. That’s when you know you are fully in charge of your career and, perhaps, your life.

Unfortunately, most of us aren’t as brave as those circus aerialists. We make decisions expecting that:

  • If it doesn’t work out, we can rely our parents or spouse to bail us out
  • We can go back to the job we left behind or a prior employer
  • Going back to school will ultimately land us a better job 

We tend not to take risks that will leave us in a helpless heap if we come up short.

What are you willing to wager?

This is the quandary: Because self-preservation is a strong motivator, how do we balance our risk tolerance and our success aspirations?

Start out by being honest about what you want to achieve and why. What will make you really proud of yourself? What choices are you willing to stand up for in spite of the potentially negative reactions of people you care about? What sacrifices are you ready to make?

Look at professional athletes. Many come from backgrounds fraught with struggle and want. So they bet everything on the outside chance they will become big time athletes. If they fail, nothing much changes.

Look at children of privilege who were expected to go into the family business but want to do their own thing instead. That’s what happened with Warren Buffet’s, son, Peter, who became an Emmy Award winning musician his way. If he’d failed, he’d have paid the price on many levels.

Look at William Gates Gill, author of How Starbuck’s Saved My Life, who lost his high-powered marketing job at J. Walter Thompson Advertising. At 63 he took a service job at a Starbuck’s store in New York City because he was down and out. If he failed at that, he was done.

Fold the net…Find the glory!

Career success feels sweetest when you’ve made it your way. Safety nets are often an illusion and can become a prison. Tune out the naysayers who chant: “Girls/guys don’t do that,” “What if this all goes wrong,” “You don’t know what you’re doing.” Think for yourself and about yourself. Don’t fear risk. Embrace it smartly.

When you’re business fit, you’ve thought through the options. You’ve done your due diligence. You know where you’re headed. You’ve inventoried your capabilities. You’re packed and ready to run away to the circus! See you there!

What was the biggest career risk you’ve taken? How did it work out? Can’t wait to hear!

Think You’re Not Good Enough? Look Around! | Evolving Self-Confidence

I often hear this: “I don’t have enough:

  • experience for that job
  • knowledge to lead a team
  • years with the company to advance
  • know-how to start my own business.” 

Exactly, who says we aren’t good enough? Most of the time, we’re the guilty party.

Doubt is our enemy.

Negative self-talk is often riddled with self-doubt. We look at what others are achieving, compare ourselves, and question whether we have what it takes. We self-assess against standards that we invent before we know what the real expectations are.

Self-confidence is as much about being willing to explore an opportunity as it is about being able to execute an assignment. All too often, we worry about our ability to do a job before we understand what it is.

Doubt cannot be allowed to rule.  

The antidote to doubt is reality. Not some “reality” you imagine but the reality that exists.

Start by looking around. Who is doing the work that you think you’re “not good enough” to do as well or better?

Look hard and long at those people. Watch exactly what they do and say. Pay attention to the actual results they produce. Examine their work closely. Find out what others are saying about it.

Then ask yourself, “Can I produce work like that or better?”  My guess is that, in most cases, your answer will be, “Sure.”

If you’ve been reading my posts for a bit, you know that I spent many years as a commercial horse breeder. I knew nothing about it when I started.

Before I bought my farm, I had doubts about whether or not I could care for horses on my own since I’d had no knowledge or experience. The owner of the barn where I’d been boarding warned me, “You could kill those horses if you don’t feel ‘em right.” That rocked me.

Then I stopped to think about her and the other people I’d met who were in the horse business. I asked myself, “Is there any reason to believe that the people in this business are smarter than I am? Do I have good people to advise me when I have questions?” The answers were obvious.

Self-confidence is not arrogance. 

Arrogance is when you act like you know everything. Self-confidence is about believing in yourself. It builds courage, keeps you moving forward in spite of setbacks, and enables you to seize opportunities to grow.

You find self-confidence by looking positively at yourself, acknowledging what you can do. You build self-confidence by testing your capabilities.

The biggest mistake we make is telling ourselves that we have to be the best at something before we are “entitled” to be self-confident. In fact, we just have to be as good as the situation requires.

Role models are everywhere. 

If your self-confidence is a bit shaky, it’s time to look around and see who’s out there doing what you want to do with capabilities similar to yours. In the past four months, I watched these two confidence-building situations unfold:

1.) A Gen Y college grad, who hated her job, started a blog, made professional on-line contacts, was recognized for her writing talents, started freelancing, and just got a full-time job.

2.) An experienced marketing professional was downsized, couldn’t find another job, talked to independent contractors about how they worked, informally looked for clients, blogged about her “start up” experiences, got great advice, opened an office, and saw her business start to grow.

Self-confidence evolves. Every step you take helps you build your truly capable self. You can mentor, volunteer to lead a team, give speeches, deliver training, start a hobby business, or cover a temporary vacancy at work.

Every step you take to become business fit builds your self-confidence. If you haven’t had a chance to learn the seven smart moves, perhaps now’s the time. Your self-confidence is your success engine. Without it, we don’t move very far or very fast. Vroooom!

How has your self-confidence been tested? What were you able to do to overcome your doubts and move ahead? Thanks for helping out!