Work-Life 1/14/2016

Uncharted Territories: Identifying The Leaders From The Managers by Leslie Juvin-Acker

Leadership is akin to taking a group through a great desert, not totally knowing what lies on the other side. Leadership is guiding people, especially ourselves, into an uncharted wilderness. Those who want to know what to expect out of their actions are managers. This, too, is perfectly OK. There is, however, nothing visionary about achieving something that’s already been done and expected. Leaders know this and are willing to take on the challenge.

Leaders are those who sometimes find themselves awake at night with the sobering realization that, despite having a vision, they really don’t know where they’re going. They don’t know how it yet feels, actually looks like, and what these unknown destinations actually mean within the span of their careers but they’ve got an inkling, that little intangible something that propels them forward. Reeled forward by an unseen pull to progress and to go beyond all the other experiences that s/he has already experienced.

As a leadership coach, I can spot a leader and a manger from a mile away. One wants to push forward, prepared to abandon all their preconceived notions as to what success feels and looks like (and what it takes to experience it). While the manager clings to maintain more of the same (sometimes preferring yesterday to today).

Anyone who insists that they just want to go back to what they were doing before isn’t ready to move forward, let alone lead others forward. I get it. Change is hard. Sometimes, it’s painful and confusing and just damned hard. And yet, the individual who is ready to accept change is ready to accept the challenge of driving that vision. Those who detach themselves from how things should be is mentally open enough to deal with circumstances as they are and are thus prepared to deal with and adapt to change.

The thing is, anyone who has been working long enough knows that the business environment is constantly changing. It’s not like we have to force things into evolving; Change is the only constant. Thus, the adaptive leader understands this fact and is willing to confront the conditions as to work in harmony with them - even those unexpected and tough changes. They see the opportunities left open by the changing tides and go for them. Granted, conditions may not always be ideal, and so, leaders who possess enough fortitude to keep going ultimately learn from the indices that the environment is communicating and can thus better choose their next actions.

Like walking through an uncharted desert, we don’t always know what awaits us on the other side - and that’s scary. Leaders, while having a vision in mind, are not attached to what exists over there, but embrace the challenges and conditions of the desert in which they are leading their team, realizing their ideals with every step forward.

Leading isn’t a fearless activity. It’s one in which we must embrace the fear and go forward anyway. That’s what defines a courageous leader. Embracing the unexpected is a healthy exercise in leadership development because the act says, “I don’t need the past, nor the future to define me. I just need what I’ve got right now to give me the tools and use them to be better and do better.”

Coach Leslie’s Questions To Ask Ourselves

1.    Do I cling to the past? My past successes, failures, unresolved issues? Do I live my career and thus my expectations, too much into the future?

2.    When “going through the desert” do I pay attention to the conditions around me and allow them to communicate to me where are the opportunities for improvement?

3.    What are your fears? What are they saying to you? How are they trying to help and, at the same time, holding you back?

4.    When I lead people, do I get them to focus on growth experiences instead of punishing them for missteps? Do I give myself the same grace?

5.    Do I just want to maintain what’s happening by resisting change or do I allow myself to go with the flow of change? Which scenario best describes you? Why/why not?

6.    When it comes to the strategy of achieving what it is that I want, do I go the paths that have already been traversed or do I allow myself to walk my own path? Where does the conflict within myself lie?