the case of the missing leader

by | Feb 27, 2018 | Leadership

What if I were to tell you that there are leaders missing in your organisation? That there are voices, ideas, opinions and talent that are unheard and unseen?

I’m not talking about a headcount issue or a rash of absenteeism, but leaders who aren’t showing up to their full potential.

This isn’t a “performance” issue – these talented individuals have recently been given a new leadership challenge whether a promotion, increased responsibility or a brief to lead an agenda for change or innovation.

Yet this is what their line managers say they need them to do more of :

  • Lead more, manage less
  • Execute faster, make change happen
  • Be more visible and more vocal, especially with senior stakeholders
  • Challenge more, share their thinking
  • Have more confidence in themselves

There is an expectation that they step up seamlessly to leadership and often a level of frustration as to why the leader in question doesn’t just “get on with it”.

Do you recognise this scenario in your organisation? So what’s going on?

Underlying fears are holding them back from performing at their best.

  • “I don’t know how I’m going to keep on top of everything and make time to focus on strategic objectives.”
  • “I feel out of my depth having an opinion in an area where I don’t have subject matter expertise, let alone leading it.”
  • “I’m afraid of speaking up with senior stakeholders because I may say something wrong and look stupid.”
  • “I’m not leadership material – I’m not charismatic or inspiring.”
  • “I’m afraid I’ll fail.”

They’re afraid of being found out – often known as Impostor Syndrome, of losing their reputation, of losing control, of not being able to provide for themselves and their family.

Whilst these leaders may appear outwardly confident, they are subject to negative thoughts, feelings of anxiety and fear, and behavioural patterns such as perfectionism, procrastination and people-pleasing which keep them from lifting their head above the parapet.

It’s as though they’re a swan gliding on the lake, their legs paddling furiously underneath the surface.

The bottom line is that, when fear is at play, survival becomes paramount.

That means pleasing the boss becomes more important than pushing back, doing it right becomes more important than doing the right thing, keeping on top of daily demands supersedes creativity and independent thinking.

This isn’t good news when creativity is regarded as the most important skill for future leaders according to an IBM study of 1500 CEOs globally and that many CEOs are concerned that their emerging leaders are lacking in the ability to think strategically and manage change effectively.

The real cost of fear is not what you can see, but what you can’t

  • The missing conversation – for example, a leader holding back from connecting with a key influencer because Fear says, “Why  would  they want to talk to you?”.
  • The missing voice in a meeting – an idea, a challenge, an opinion that could change the course of an organisation is  left  unsaid  because  Fear  says, “You’ll say something stupid.”
  • The missing request – not asking for additional resource that will be the turning point  between  success  and  failure,  because  Fear  says,  “They’ll think you can’t cope.”
  • The missing decision – the decision that is never made, because Fear wants the leader to make sure it really is the right decision,  whatever “right” is, to avoid imagined failure.

Fear may be keeping leaders in your organisation from speaking up, from pushing back, from making the time and space to create something that nobody has thought of yet – and from connecting with the right people to make it happen.

What would be possible if your leaders felt they were able to express themselves fully? What could that mean for growth, for innovation, for engagement in your organisation?

This is an excerpt from Alison Reid’s white paper : Taking the fear out of leadership – a 3-step process. Download the complete paper here.

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Alison Reid is an experienced executive coach who helps Directors lead with confidence and step-change their influence and impact. She works with them 1-1, empowering them to focus on what matters, communicate with impact and stay calm under pressure so they can lead themselves and others to great results. She's the author of Unleash Your Leadership : How to Worry Less and Achieve More. Download an extract or buy the book.

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