Where you lead

On awakening the leader within

boardwalk stretching out on to an ocean

In high school, hundreds of years ago, I surprised myself in gym class. I was bespectacled, acned, insecure and intent on staying invisible. However, we were put into small groups and asked to create a series of movements that told a story. Nobody moved, so eventually I did. I choreographed a spontaneous tableau about a collective rise from the ashes, climaxing with the group in a tight circle reaching skyward, victorious, with closed, powerful fists.

Where did this creativity, this leadership, come from? I didn’t question it because I was dizzy from the teacher’s robust applause and my classmates’ relief that I’d taken the lead. It was likely the first time in my life I felt the joy and impact of personal leadership.

I didn’t become a poised, confident leader from that moment on, far from it. But I suspect the experience set aflame the notion that leadership could be seized. Even by someone who doesn’t consider themselves a leader.

Fast forward to a career in communications. Most of us comms pros have a passion for language, storytelling, truth and engagement. We’re the ones who write about the organization, hold its brand dear, anticipate its reputation risks, prepare for the worst, offer our best and enforce standards not everyone wants to follow.

Because of this position, we have the opportunity to take a proactive leadership stance. By thinking about challenges from the perspective of our audience, as we do to create strong marketing and communications materials, we can anticipate solutions to those challenges before they become problems for ourselves and our colleagues.

We can use our instincts, sensitivities and creativity to own our position of leadership and authority with confidence, while upholding the needs of others. This works whether you’re the CEO, department manager or have no direct reports. Some examples:

  • Well done, mate!
    I have always had the instinct to compliment people. I’ve struggled over whether that’s a sign of insecurity and people-pleasing, then decided, no. I just like celebrating someone for a job well done because, when it’s genuine, it feels good for them and for me. It also positions the complimenter as a warm, attentive leader.
  • Truth be told.
    When you uphold strong, positive personal values in and outside of work, it shows. When you can be relied on for honest and respectful feedback, when you are resolute about standing up for what’s right, you gain a reputation as a leader who speaks and writes the truth, and is a powerful ally for moving things forward with integrity. (Caution: Most of us know this isn’t always easy to do. Struggles can ensue when you’re at odds with someone about what the truth is or how they want to move forward. But that’s another blog entry!)
  • You are welcome.
    Inviting people in is a mark of respect. Into your office, into your strategy, into your struggles and into the situation. Keeping personal and professional boundaries in place, to include other people is a strength, whether that’s colleagues in planning, audiences in outreach or the team in information. Inclusion is the foundation of good leadership. You don’t have to have all the answers, and you don’t. Your transparency and openness to others’ input, support and participation will enhance your work. Your strict adherence to privacy, accessibility and security guidelines will ensure that work is inclusive at its core. And your profile as a respectful leader will be reinforced.
  • Ready. Set. Go.
    In a fast-paced world where there’s little wiggle room and less lead time, it’s a challenge to be prepared for everything. In fact, it’s impossible. But to have a mindset of high productivity and efficiency, and follow that up with actual organization and preparedness, makes everything better, and shows others how it’s done. Intention is important here. How do you want to run the show? Are you absolutely sure of your desired outcomes? Have you thought of every eventuality? Do you have all the resources you need, or can get? Are you listening to your instincts? (That little voice you sometimes shush because you don’t have time to listen.) Have you helped others become prepared? When you give yourself the gift of preparing well with acute foresight, you become your own leader, which translates beautifully into one others can comfortably follow.

With thanks for reading,