Many of my clients tell me they want leadership positions. Come to think of it, many of them are already in what most people would call leadership positions. They manage people, direct them, decide on bonuses, hiring, and firing, and so on.
But they aren’t satisfied with their current positions. They don’t know why. They just think they’ll like things more when they are higher on the organizational chart or running a company they started.
They misunderstand leadership, confusing a position or title with having control over their lives. The more your role consists of obligations over which you have no control, the less you are a leader and the more you’re a follower, no matter how high your salary or vaunted your title. You can be a Senator, CEO, President, Chair of the Board, … whatever. If you only meet obligations, you’re not in control of your life. If you’re not in control of your life, you’re going to feel stress, dissatisfaction, and various other forms of wanting. If you confused your leadership-sounding title with ability to control your life, you’ll have internal conflict that you can’t resolve until you understand this aspect of your situation.
When you understand the value of having control over your life — your relationships, your decisions, your tasks, etc — you realize two big things:
- You can lead from any position.
- You can develop the skills to control your life now, without a promotion.
The second point is major. It leads to people learning to improve their lives right now with everyone, not just work colleagues. You learn to become a leader not by waiting to get promoted but by behaving how people will follow your lead and believing what promotes that behavior. Promotions will more likely follow faster, though you’ll find you want or need them less since you’ll be choosing to work on more important things, doing them more effectively, and enjoying your work more already, no longer limited by titles and positions on charts to decide important things about your life.
Since many clients describe shortcomings in how their managers lead them, an early exercise is to lead their managers in an area that isn’t working well. An exercise like this achieves several goals relevant to most people, including:
- You take responsibility for your relationship.
- You learn and practice up-leading.
- You learn and practice seeing your manager as a person first and position on an organizational chart second.
- You learn and practice asserting yourself without being aggressive.
- You force yourself to see things from their perspective.
Usually we work up to an exercise like that, first doing solo exercises, then role-playing and practicing to prepare for different eventualities. You don’t need a coach to start practicing up-leading, but for some reason most people don’t do it on their own, probably fear combined with not seeing how to allay risk.
Anyway, skill and experience leading people independent of your positions in company charts opens you to seeing the foundation of leadership and control over your life in behavior, skills, and beliefs, which you start developing quickly.
If you want control over your life, learn behaviors and beliefs that create it. You can do that now. Don’t confuse a title that comes with obligations with control over your life.
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