For over fifteen years, I played various leadership roles in software development teams. People knew I got things done and worked to make everyone around me better. That is until I changed jobs and went from a technical lead role to a coaching role.
Everything that made me a great leader in the past worked against me now. People thought I was arrogant and too demanding. It was painful, but I started realizing that my approach was wrong and that I had to change to become the leader I wanted to be. That is how I got started on my own leadership journey.
In this article, we will explore this notion of the leadership journey and how different types of leaders go through it.
People use the words “leadership” and “leaders” in different ways. For some, it is a formal role they have at work that comes with a title and expectations. When they are in this role, they feel a certain legitimacy and almost an obligation to step up.
The legitimacy they feel may give them permission to act in any way they want. It may also give them permission to say anything they want, in any way they want to say it. They are the leaders, so people around them need to meet their needs and expectations.
These leaders may at times interpret “stepping up” as having to do it all and have all the answers. Without realizing it, they are leaking a lot of the power they have all over the place.
For others, leadership is a privilege and a permission that people give them to lead them. Their title does not matter to them and they will lead regardless of having one or not. They realize leadership is something they can share with others. They know when to lead and when to follow others and let them lead.
These leaders have some degree of self-awareness. They realize the impact of their words and actions on the people they are leading. They have a clear purpose for their leadership (and for their life for that matter). They lead in service of something that is greater than themselves, and that is why people follow them.
These leaders are like a bright light that is shining in the darkness. They attract people in a natural way with little to no effort. People choose to follow them because of what they represent to them.
Somewhere between those two extremes, you have leaders caught in the middle. I refer to them as dormant leaders. They have leadership skills they apply in some parts of their lives. In other parts such as work though, they hold back.
These leaders do not feel legitimate or that they have permission to lead. They fear rejection or ridicule. They fear people will not follow them. Their behaviours and beliefs are also somewhere in-between the two other types of leaders. Some are more directive because they believe that is how leaders act. Others are more collaborative because that is their belief around leadership.
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The key thing to remember here is this: Leaders can learn to navigate across these stages. You begin at one place and through personal development work, reach another.
This work on yourself may take many months or maybe even years. Your willingness to do this work and the time you invest in doing it is what I call the leadership journey.
What type of leader are you right now, and more importantly, how do you want to be in the future?