Leaders, Remember Why You’re Different

How did you first know that you were leadership material?

I’m not asking about when you first thought you wanted to be the boss or when you realized you wanted to direct people to be the best that they could be.

I want you to pinpoint in your mind EXACTLY when you KNEW that you were cut out for it.

I’ll tell you about my moment. It really wasn’t anything too incredible, but I remember coming out of it feeling like the king of the world.

A few years ago I had been promoted to manage a small team (seven employees including me) of safety workers despite being the youngest on the team and one of the least experienced. I had to deal with the fact that those I was now in charge of some who had been my superiors just days before the promotion and most of them really didn’t like the change. The reason for the promotion was due to the fact that our biggest customer at the time appreciated the work that I had been producing and asked the Vice President of our company that I be in charge of the team. To be honest I actually felt bad for doing a good job because I had “jumped ahead” of some of my colleagues. It did not help that I felt in way over my head.

Not long after the my promotion our department seemed to hit massive personnel problems. It seemed like the world around us was caving in and in one week we had to let go of four other team members due to various reasons (all were major company policy transgressions that the upper management uncovered). This left me with three people to run a seven person department. To top it off, just prior to the firings one of the two individuals remaining went on vacation.

So there I sat, enough work in a safety sensitive job function for seven people and only myself and one other guy to get it all done. Needless to say I was more than stressed and ready to quit.

Yes I wanted to quit. The pressure was almost unbearable and the shame of giving up seemed to be worth being relieved of the stress.

I REALLY wanted to quit, but I didn’t.

I stuck it out. And with some uncomfortable but honest communication with our client along with a few weeks of extremely long hours we were able to get the job done and hire some excellent individuals that took our team to a new level of efficiency and professionalism.

I only tell this story to give you some preface for the following. When I am having second thoughts about my leadership abilities or am feeling the effects of imposter syndrome I refer to moments like this one. Remembering these occurrences reminds me that the reason I have been able to overcome some of the obstacles I have encountered is simply due to my willingness to fight the battles that many others aren’t willing to fight.  

You see, leaders are no different from those with the herd mentality except that they show a willingness to encounter discomfort in order to better themselves and those who they serve.

Once again I ask:

When did you KNOW that you were a leader?

It was probably a time when, against the odds, you used what little resources you had available to pull a Macgyver and put them together to create something that was greater than the sum of its parts. It wasn’t easy and it definitely was not fun, but it was a time when you surpassed what even you thought you could do.

Do you have it?

If so, savor it. You will need to hold onto a good memory of a success because the cost of leadership is a lot of loneliness, self-doubt, and difficulty. You will feel like you fail way more than you feel like you win.

As a leader there will be times in which nobody else is willing to do what is necessary, but it’s in these moments when a true leader distinguishes himself. When nobody else is willing to go the extra mile, a leader will step up and take the hit for the team.

When a team member doesn’t know how to complete a task, the leader (“boss” or not) will rise up and figure out a solution. When the CEO is ranting due to a team’s failure, the leader (team head or not) will accept responsibility AND offer a course of action. When the startup is failing by all numerical accounts, the leader will find the motivation and capital to keep people working and building a product that adds value to the lives of others.

Sadly they sometimes have to lose individuals to keep moving ahead. But they can always find those with a similar vision and give those in their tribe everything that they’ve got.

They fight alongside their people.

They fight for their people.

They fight to inspire their people.

While you are building your future and blazing new trails you will hit bumps and barriers. If you are any good at what you do you will find a way through or around them. You’ll get better at making decisions and improvising solutions. Slowly you will find yourself becoming more confident when confronting challenges. You will cut a path to your dreams. When the hard times are gone you will look back and see a long path that has been paved with small successes.

Here’s the best part: if you do it right, when you look back you will see dedicated people behind you finding their own success and building their own dreams.

Today, choose to lead.