Be A Leader Others Want To Follow

An Ambitious Plan

May 02


You’re an outstanding solo contributor, and your reward is a promotion that makes you the new rising star leader guiding a team of passionate former colleagues. It’s going to take more than solo talent and enthusiasm to make the shift from colleague to a leader others want to follow.  It’s going to take an ambitious plan to get you there, but you’ve got no other choice.

Being the leader others want to follow starts with throwing out the playbook that got you where you are today and swapping that for a new one – one that is going to take nothing less than your letting go of seeing everything through the prism of  “what’s in it for me.”

Navigating the new organizational obstacle course means learning how to overcome competing interests, and uncertainty, and coalescing a diverse group of individual contributors around a common purpose.  It means shifting from the “me” mindset of a solo contributor to a “we” mindset of a leader who inspires those around him or her to reach their highest potential.

Here are the strategies that will shake up your current mindset and get you moving on an altogether different level::

Believe In The Leader Within

New leaders can sometimes feel a bit like imposters — believing that everyone expects them to know everything, and yet they feel as if they know nothing at all about what it takes to lead others. Believing in your ability to transcend being a solo contributor and start becoming a transcendent leader begins when you make the commitment to connect with who you are rather than what you think others want you to be. Finding your stride starts when you remember that you earned the right to be where you are, you have the capacity to master everything you need to know to succeed, and you have the humility to know that you can’t do that without the help of those you now lead. Living up to your new role isn’t about being a superhero on day one—it’s about stepping up your game each and every day by challenging yourself to risk, be clear in your intentions, and learning as you go. You can start connecting with the leader within by emulating other leaders you think highly of and avoiding the behavior of those you don’t. As you become more comfortable in your own skin, your confidence will grow. The time of doing what they did will be replaced with a period of trial and error as you search for that unique mix and leadership formula that works for you. Over time, you’ll find out what reflects who you are through your own experiences and unique perspective, and the leader within will emerge.

Actions Matter And So Do Your Words

Being intentional about everything as a leader is critical, and so much about leadership is tied to your central values and core beliefs. We signal what they are to those we lead in both word and action by telling them what matters, where we won’t waver, and what we’re passionate about. Something as simple as using the word “we” instead of “I” can communicate that all of our interests are intrinsically linked. Clarity in word and action is what enables those you lead to understand how you’ll make decisions and determine what is important. It helps them know where they stand and what is expected of them.

Believe In People Whose Subject Matter Expertise Exceeds Yours

Your secret formula for success has shifted from being weighted toward your technical skills toward your new secret formula for success — the brilliance and creativity of the people on your team. It isn’t about you making a difference on your own anymore, so knowing everything isn’t even a possibility. Your wins come with building trust and making possible relationships among team members that get everyone working toward a common purpose with respect for each other’s diverse talents and abilities. Trading in the title of “subject matter expert” for “exceptional leader” opens the door to stepping back and seeing what drives each person to excel and deciding how best to both challenge and reward them. Retaining the brilliant folks on your team is only part of the task — truly remarkable leaders are judged by how many generations of leaders follow in their footsteps.

Clear The Roadblocks Instead Of Becoming One

As a high-performing individual contributor, resisting the urge to intervene is overwhelming — after all, what got you to where you are in your propensity to get things done? Yet the fastest way to de-motivate the creative and capable people that work for you and get bogged down and off track from your own leadership journey is to intervene when you’re not really needed. Developing the wisdom to know when to clear roadblocks and not become one is a necessary mind shift you must make early on.  Empowering the enthusiastic and high-performing individual contributors on your team comes from engaging them in ways that support their approach, tempo, and need for independence. Share lessons when invited, but always emphasize your confidence in their ability to decide how best to resolve the situation. Underscore learning, experimentation, and collaboration. Draw upon what you know about everyone to design the overall structure, and then give them license to cross boundaries and specialties when needed to achieve what none could do on their own.

Embrace The Unknown

Leadership, in essence, changes who you are and where your focus lies. It alters your relationship with those around you and with yourself. Your chief obligation and charge are to set the vision and make sense of this for everyone along the way: to be the first to challenge your own predisposed ways of thinking, what you or others should know — or what you think you know — and assumptions about what is and how it should be resolved. Creating the space for new ways of thinking and doing things can only come from modeling humility and embracing the unknown. Improvisation, questioning, and experimentation will help you and others gain insight from not knowing rather than fearing the unknown.

Turning out to be a leader as outstanding as you were a solo contributor encompasses figuring out how you fit into the bigger picture in an organization, team, and societal level and then ambitiously pursuing the goals needed to get you there.

Let me know what you’re planning on doing to become that leader others want to follow.