08 Apr Are You Leading? Or Are You Kidding Yourself?
If you head up an organisation, team, family, or community, you may think of yourself as a leader, but are you actually leading or are you kidding yourself?
How do you know when you’re leading?
What is Leading?
Leading is pioneering. It’s looking at and approaching things from a fresh or different perspective. It means engaging in brand new actions and conversations that are new not only for you and the group you are leading, but for your organisation, your industry, and potentially even the world.
This is different from managing.
What is Managing?
When you’re managing, you’re enacting a pre-existing behaviour, doing what you’ve always done, or have recently been doing. Managing is maintaining the status quo and current way of operating and perceiving.
There is a time and a place for both leading and managing, both are vital in any organisation, family, team, or community. The question is, do you know when you’re leading and when you’re managing?
How to Tell the Difference
One of the key indicators that you’re leading is discomfort or a sense of insecurity. Why so?
When leading, there is no-one or no-thing to reference, nothing to compare to, no steps to follow, because you’re breaking new ground. Like an artist staring at a blank canvas and intending to bring something into existence – there is no certainty, no guarantee that things will turn out the way you envisage. Leading is risky.
Human Brains are Programmed to Seek Safety
As a survival mechanism your brain is designed to be on high alert for danger (whether real physical in-your-face danger like a tiger about to attack you, or an imagined / psychological threat like how your boss might react if you’re late to work), so it makes sense that when leading you may experience some mental and physiological discomfort.
This discomfort is one of the reasons why so few people are actually leading and instead default to managing. Many are just not willing to feel the heat. If you are one of those, David Rock developed a model called SCARF that can help you to maximise reward and eliminate threat. You can watch a 4-minute video that explains the model here.
How Organisations Inhibit Leadership
Leadership is not just risky for the leader, but also for the organisation they are leading.
One of the things that can thwart an organisation from thriving is the unwillingness to back or follow someone leading. It can be difficult to visualise where they are going, and there are no guarantees that the organisation’s bottom line will benefit.
Leading is Challenging the Status Quo
When leading, you’re looking from new perspectives and doing things differently. This is often going to generate resistance called homeostasis.
Homeostasis occurs in all organisms. Your body, for example maintains a steady temperature and other vital conditions like levels of water, salt, sugar, protein, fat, and oxygen. This equilibrium is integral to your survival and success. If for some reason these vitals fluctuate, your body is going to do it’s best to bring them back into equilibrium.
Organisational culture also exerts a homeostatic pull. When introducing growth strategies, leaders often experience the organisation’s unstated desire to maintain equilibrium in the form of resistance. For this reason, it’s critical to stay objective to the culture of your organisation otherwise you become subject to it and powerless to redirect it.
The Hot Seat
Leading is almost always going to be uncomfortable.
The question is: are you willing to get comfortable being uncomfortable? Are you ready to disturb the status quo and explore your leadership potential? Are you willing to question the way things have always been done, and dare to suggest something different?
Repressing a part of ourselves however does not make it go away, and as we mature into adulthood, we’re faced with a sobering choice: either do the work to reintegrate our shadow aspects; or allow those shadow aspects to shape our experience of living in a way that is not driven by our conscious choice.
“If you’re not uncomfortable in your work as a leader, it’s almost certain you’re not reaching your potential as a leader”
– Seth Godin
What Are Your Takeaways?
As you reflect on the various indicators of leading mentioned in this article, how do you stack up? Are you leading or are you kidding yourself? You now have two signposts. Are they pointing to leading or managing?
Are you’re uncomfortable? Great! Get used to that sensation. Welcome it in.
A red flag to watch for. Get familiar with your patterns of personality. Notice when you’re being had by the culture (of your organisation, team, family or community). Are you feeling the pull to conform? If so, get objective to the culture and ask yourself ‘What is required here and how can I take the lead?’
Whilst no-one can show you the way, other leaders can provide a place to normalise, challenge and support you in the process of leading. If you’re actively seeking to move beyond the comfort of the status quo, you may want to reach out and join a community of leaders such as She Leads.
Written by Soo Balbi
Soo is a behavioural expert and one of Australia’s leading Developmental Coaches, partnering with women to actualise their fullest leadership potential. Soo assists her clients to cut to the heart of any challenge, enabling choices and possibilities previously unavailable, and is the founder of She Leads which is a free monthly forum for women to discuss a wide range of topics relating to leadership.