By Linda Carpenter Smith, PhD, Carpenter Smith Consulting
One of the things that I have come to trust that there is a leader in every one of us! Not just the people with the title and role, but all of us who are leading our lives, our families, our work efforts.
Leadership is defined as the willingness to influence your world and be influenced by your world, regardless of your role or your title.
Think about it – when you lead, you step in and influence your world – you don’t stand on the sidelines with your arms crossed complaining or stomping around blaming others. And, when you are influenced by your world, you listen and respond, you don’t just roll over others.
We know there is a leader in you and that practicing these three steps – or even one of these three steps – will change your impact in the world because when you are leading, you are able to matter more to yourself and demonstrate to others that they matter to you. And, mattering does matter!
Step 1: The Fundamental Pause
Step one is a pause – the fundamental pause – because it is truly fundamental to creating impact and success. A pause may look passive, but it is actually a powerfully active process. When you pause, on the outside you may be taking a sip of water, walking to the bathroom, or organizing your papers but inside you are asking yourself, “Is what I am about to say or do in alignment with my goals?”
Those goals may be personal, like the desire to feel proud of your behavior, knowing you responded like the leader you are versus reacting to a situation or challenge out of fear. Or they may be large organizational goals like getting the team aligned behind a core initiative.
The most effective leaders are not reactive to their world but respond to it with choice and confidence.
Step 2: Reflect to Understand Yourself and the People You are Leading
When reflecting on your experience and the experience of others, always ask a question about fear. We know that fear is the biggest derailer in creating success. Many of us don’t feel it as fear, but may feel frustration, anxiety, or unsettledness (and if those words are more comfortable for you, feel free to use them!) What we want you to understand is that our brain signals fear very quickly – when we feel stressed, challenged, or in a situation reminiscent of an earlier challenge, etc. – so while you may not feel it as fear, it’s important to understand that to most of us, fear is very powerful.
So, in Step 2, when we ask you to reflect, we ask about your fear, and we ask that you take a guess about the fears others may be experiencing.
By doing so, you will become more in touch with what may be going on in you and what may be going on for the people you are leading – increasing your empathy for both your own “messiness” and the “messiness” of those you are leading. And, that’s important because there is no sugar coating it: We are people and people are messy.
The most powerful way to quickly reflect on what is going on inside of you is to ask yourself three questions:
- What am I afraid of in this situation?
- What do I typically do when I’m afraid?
- What would I do if I felt safe?
And, then do this! This is where your leadership sits.
With these three simple questions, you quickly know a lot about what is going on inside of you and how to move forward.
The act of leadership is doing what you would do if you felt safe. Sometimes that means consciously choosing to ignore the fear so that you are acting at your best, even if you don’t yet feel it!
The most powerful way to understand what is going on in others – to have greater empathy and gentleness toward others in their struggle – is to explore what might be making them afraid in a particular situation. As a leader, you will have the greatest impact if you can even make a guess at what is rocking the people you are leading and reflect on what will help them feel safe enough to move forward at their best.
You use the same three simple questions, plus one, to quickly guess what is going on inside of them and explore how you can move forward to increase their sense of safety enough that they can join you in leading.
- What are they afraid of in this situation?
- What do they do when they feel this way?
- What would they do if they felt safe?
- What can I do to help them feel safe?
And, do this! This is where your leadership sits.
The act of leadership is to understand that we are all messy and your role is to help the people that you are leading feel safe enough to be at their best.
Step 3: Act with P.O.W.E.R.
There is a lot written about leadership and much of it is specific to running an organization or working within a specific industry and all of that is important. Yet, at the core, there are five things great leaders do. And we have seen time and time again the impact that these five actions can move an effort forward and accelerate success.
- Possibility: Great leaders look for the opportunities inherent in the obstacles and challenges. They trust that there are always opportunities.
- Own it and Share Why it Matters to You: Successful leaders are committed to creating success and know that sharing why that success matters to them as the leader is inspiring to others.
- “We” Focused Goals: Effective leaders are always creating a sense of a ‘we’ – alignment behind the vision and commitment to the path forward.
- Enable Action: Leadership is all about action – even if at times the action chosen is to sit tight and assess.
- Review and Refine: Seasoned leaders know that it’s never one and done so are disciplined to review the success of actions taken and refine quickly – as often as needed – to create success.
If you think of these three steps as a circle, then when you review and refine you are essentially taking a pause to ask, is what we are doing in alignment with our goals. And, you start the circle again. That’s leadership. Your leadership.
I’d love to hear how you practice these steps of leadership in your work, relationships and personal life. Is there a step that you think is the most impactful in your success?
Linda Carpenter is a leading expert in creating powerful transformation in individuals, teams, and organizations. In her role as co-Founder, Thought Leader, and Sr. Consultant of Carpenter Smith Consulting, LLC, she has spent more than 20 years working across industries to accelerate leadership effectiveness and create cultures of leadership and engagement including the “Leader in You” model on which this article is based.