Do you find yourself saying no to an opportunity because you aren’t perfect? Let me ask you another question, who do you know that is perfect? Some of the most successful people I know didn’t have their ducks all in a row before saying yes to an opportunity. What do you do when you don’t have all your ducks in a row? Do you cut yourself short and decline the opportunity to contribute? Or do you step out of your comfort zone and risk moving forward?
It’s natural to have doubts in your ability to tackle a new challenge for the first time. Often we want more time to continue preparing and perfecting. We don’t feel we are ready and we resist because we don’t want to fail. We don’t want to make a mistake. This was exactly the case for my colleague and me as we experienced our first speaking engagement. We’d completed our research and collaborated to create our presentations. We studied, did dry run’s and asked for feedback. We wrote and re-wrote and did more dry run’s. We were so focused that we begun to rehearse our presentations in our sleep. And even so, we still wished we had more time to prepare and perfect our presentations.
We finally told ourselves that it was time to deliver. We reassured ourselves that we had done all we could to deliver with professionalism and style. And you know what? That’s exactly what we did. We stopped thinking about ourselves and our needs. Instead we focused on the reason we wanted to speak in the first place, to help others.
“When I dare to be powerful to use my strengths
in the service of my mission (vision) then it becomes less
and less important whether I am afraid.”
~ Audre Lorde
And here’s the best part. Because we were willing to step out of our comfort zone and risk the chance of failing, we grew in our confidence and helped others as well. The presentations went really well. There were parts of the presentation that were right on and parts where there’s room for improvement. It wasn’t perfect, however, it was good enough to really inspire some people. People laughed and some even cried. We were overjoyed with the response we received. Many people thanked us, often with tears in their eyes and some even asked us to be their mentor. Was it easy? No. But it sure was worth the reward!
I remember sitting in an auditorium and hearing the speaker ask, “How many of you are leaders?” Surprisingly, very few hands went up. What holds us back from thinking of ourselves as a leader? Perhaps it’s the fear of failure or being accountable to ourselves and others. Or is it that if we are the leader we have to know all the answers? Whatever the answer, the reality is we are leaders. The purest definition of a leader is someone who influences others.
When you are a leader you become a role model and will undoubtedly be observed by others. Just because you are the leader doesn’t mean you will have all the answers or make all the right decisions. As a leader you will find yourself in new territory. Situations will arise that you haven’t experienced before. Decisions will need to be made, you’ll need to think on your feet and make the best decision possible with the limited information at hand. And you’ll need to take responsibility for your actions and decisions.
When you are criticized for a decision or questioned about why a requested action didn’t become a priority, you’ll need to take the high road and avoid reacting defensively. One of the best ways to know if you are on the right track as a leader is to ask yourself, “Am I demonstrating the behaviors I want our team to emulate?”
Recently I had a conversation with a colleague and she asked, “Do you really have to always take the high road? Can’t you sometimes fall short and give the person back just a small dose of the negativity they are throwing your way?” Even though these reactive behaviors are tempting and sometimes make us feel good for the moment, the reality is that by choosing any other option is destructive to you and to your team.
The next time someone let’s you know that you’ve fallen short, they disagreed with your decision or you offended them – take the high road. Instead of allowing them to get your emotions spinning, listen and respond by saying, “Thank you for letting me know. I appreciate you sharing that information with me. I’ll take your thoughts into consideration.”
It’s amazing how this technique diffuses the situation and encourages more openness among the team. This is exactly what great leaders do and with practice we can do it too!