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leadership expectations

October 19, 2016

Why is it that so many of us find it so hard to believe that other people might see in us something other than the incompetent imposters we convince ourselves we are?

In my last post I shared a story about Jim and how he created a lasting culture in his team even though he led it for a very short time. I wonder though if when you were reading that post you gave any thought to what it might have been like to be the person who had to step up and take his place?

It’s something that happens all the time. A leader that everyone admires moves on and someone else has to step in and take their place. Succession planning and smooth transitions are preferable but rarely achieved. Despite that, people will always have expectations.

Leah knew she was Jim’s second-in-command and that she could find herself thrust into the leadership role at any moment but she could never have known it would happen so quickly leaving her with  no control over the situation, no way of predicting the future and the added weight of delivering Jim’s vision for their team!

The moves that Leah made didn’t seem to bring the results that she was looking for. They were not “winning” so she thought that “losing” meant failure as a leader. The tighter she tried to hang on to something the more it got away from her. I think there came a time when, because she had no point of reference, no solid ground on which to stand, she could only be present to whatever was arising and respond from that place of not knowing. All she had was who she was and in her mind that was never going to be enough.

During the debrief Leah was reluctant to speak. She knew she was not the leader she thought she was and she was certain that everyone else knew so I guess there didn’t seem to be much point in saying it out loud. She certainly didn’t need to hear it from others. She was right.

And, she was wrong.

Leah was not the leader she thought she was. Her team started to tell her that and she didn’t want to hear it. But they felt she needed to hear it so they kept telling her.

At her heart Leah was a leader, it was just that her style of leadership was not what she thought it had to be. It wasn’t a chest-out-shoulders-back-barking-commands-tough-rouse-the-troops-out-in-front leadership and perhaps that is what she thought her team expected her to deliver. What she thought they required her to be.

But that wasn’t what her team was looking for or needed.

Leah’s what-can-I-do-to-support-you-being-your-best-are-you-ok-gentle-serving-behind-the-lines leadership was effective and supported the team in delivering the outcome they had agreed as a team they would. That is what they needed to tell her and they had to say it a couple of different times in a couple of different ways before Leah could start to hear them. Even then it seemed difficult for her. Understandable I guess when people want to tell you that who you are is enough.

Today, as I started writing the first draft of this piece we were informed that our eldest daughter will receive an award in one of the ceremonies that will bring to a close her time at high school. Neither we nor she knows what she is receiving the award for. After reviewing the criteria for each of the awards she might receive she told me she doesn’t see how she could be considered for any of them. This from someone who before leaving high school has established an export business with an enviable forward order book and has secured for herself multiple paid gigs for next year in a field that is incredibly competitive. As her parents our only real claim to contributing to her success to date is that we wised up relatively quickly just how incredible she is, stopped telling her what “she should do” and got out of her way.

But like Leah, she isn’t yet able to see in herself (or perhaps to accept) that which is clear to those around her. And here perhaps I can offer some advice for you if you find parts of Leah’s story resonate with you. Let go of who you think you are, stop judging yourself against what you think others want you to be and get out of your own way.  If you can do that you will exceed everyone’s expectations of you – especially your own.


If you would like me to come and share with you and your team the benefits that come from my work in the theatre and the experiential learning environments that I create, make me an offer via the Contact Me page.

Here is what some participants have said about their experience with me:

A week out from participating in the Samurai Game with Paul Marshall as facilitator, I am now convinced of what I had merely suspected, minutes out from completion – the Samurai Game has changed my life. Having recounted the ‘story’ of the day to a number of people close to me, from the introduction, to […]

Sara (Solicitor)

I have just been reflecting on the amazing success of our Year 6 and 7 Leadership retreats this year. Finding a way to engage and motivate students for two days about the qualities of leadership in a practical way is no mean feat. Keeping 60 boys engaged for that period of time is even more […]

Claire Howden (Assistant Principal-Religious Education)

For more on the Samurai Game you should start here and here.

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After you have subscribed, send this post on to your friends. Go on. You know at least one person who should read this post and three more who could use a bit of shaking up… seriously. Do it now. You read this far so send it on! I promise they won’t judge you or think less of you if you do.

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