It’s pretty obvious that the world needs more leaders. Not just leaders of countries, global institutions or companies but everyday people who take up a local cause, start their own businesses or just show up to be heard. So, why don’t most people stand up and lead.
Barriers to Taking the Lead
Humans are social creatures. We need to work together in order to survive. This is ingrained in our minds and has evolved over thousands of years. By being accepted as part of a group (or tribe), we can leverage other tribe members and together, we have a better chance of survival. That why fitting in is so important to us and standing apart makes us nervious.
There is also another driver born out of many studies in human nature. It’s the main reason we fear public speaking. It’s called the Illusion of Transparency.
The premise is that when your emotions are running high, others can see right though to what you are thinking and feeling. In reality, that’s not the case. You actually don’t telegraph your emotions as much as you think — it’s just that you think that because the only frame of reference you have is inside your head.
We fear leading because it means breaking away from the crowd and putting yourself in the spotlight. For most of us, that’s downright scary.
In reality, most people will never remember that you said the wrong word or made a bad decision. What they will remember is that you stepped up to lead an effort — no matter the result.
Overcoming Leadership Stage Fright
It’s not just the Illusion of Transparency that prevents people from leading. More often than not, it’s their lack of confidence in their leadership abilities. This is one of those self-fulfilling prophecies that will reinforce itself until the cycle is broken.
Breaking this cycle takes approaching the encouragement to lead in a different way. Basically, you need to remove as much of the anxiety as you can so it’s not so scary. To do that, you can apply one or more of the methods below.
Method #1: Make Them A Co-Lead
Leadership can be scary if they have never done it before or had a negative experience with it. This normally stems from not having someone to rely on to help them out. That’s way making someone a co-lead can put them at ease.
A positive co-lead experience can then lead to full on leadership. As with most of these methods, the trick is to reduce the anxiety of being in the spotlight, making wrong decisions and not knowing it all. Once they get past that, then the rest is just being able to mentor them and encourage them to be the best they can.
Method #2: Clearly Define The Role and Goal
Leading an effort can also be scary because the role or tasks are not clearly define. Most people want to have clear and rational goals so that they can go execute to a plan. Ideally, the leader should craft the plan and vision but that can be hard for some.
Clearly defining the role and the goals will help reduce the anxiety of making poor decisions, coming up with a vision and executing on it.
Method #3: Ask Others To Encourage Them
People are motivated and encouraged by many different things. Sometimes other supporters are the best people to encourage others to lead. The reasons are complex but mostly it has to do with reinforcement of the idea through repetition.
If they hear it from multiple people, then the idea of leadership is much more palatable. Just hearing it from you may put them on guard since they might feel you have alternative motives like giving them more to do or assignments you yourself don’t want to lead.
Method #4: Ease Them Into It
Once someone has accepted a leadership role, your best way to make them successful is to ensure that they gain confidence (not arrogance) quickly. You can do this as follows:
Celebrate the small achievements: I’m a big fan of the incremental and incremental achievements are a great way to boost someones confidence in their leadership ability.
Give them encouragement: By encouragement, I don’t me the canned “Win one for The Gipper” type. What I mean is situational and specific so that it is remembered and internalized.
Let them lead: Once someone steps up, you have to give them the space to lead. Too often, a new leader is overshadowed by the main leader or mentor. This overshadowing will reduce their motivation and just make them doubt why they stepped up in the first pace.
Provide guidance in private: All guidance to a new leader should be done in private. Never second guess a new leader in front of supporters (unless it’s life and death). You want to ensure that all the supporters know who is in charge.
Be the best supporter: Leadership is all about organizing supporters for a common goal. Once you achieved getting others to step up and lead, then your job is to be the best supporter you can be. If you used to be the leader, then you need to resist the urge to dominate the conversation or decision making.
The Real Best Way to Encourage Others to Lead
Getting others to step up and lead is much easier when you yourself lead. If you are one of those people who recoil from leadership opportunities then it will be challenging for you to get others to step up and lead.
Leadership is not that scary. All you have to remember is that people want to be given the opportunity to make a difference and support someone who shares their ideas. By helping others step up and lead, you can achieve this and a whole lot more.