Lead with Your Chin

I have a very earnest friend who has advised me to avoid a certain brand of pet food because she's heard "they're doing animal testing." Hmmm. But that may be a good thing, I think, looking at my stubborn cats. I wouldn't mention it to her, though, because she's full of passion about it -- I just hide the cans when she visits.

Here's the thing: My friend may be a crackpot, but she's doing her best to lead the charge.

This got me thinking -- how do we lead at our company? How do we draw other people into our visions?It is an article of faith that anyone can lead. In my early days here, I expressed frustration to a manager. I was told that I should "lead from below." (Pause for interesting mental picture...) Well, okay.

I've overheard a seminar leader, discussing this "anyone-can-lead" concept: "Yes, she said, "anyone can lead, but will they? Do they know how?"

That's the question, of course. Leadership, especially when it's outside the org. chart's line of sight, requires heaping portions of courage. Yes, you're pretty exposed when you decide to lead the charge. Naked, it feels, if you're not an org. chart-approved "leader."

Someone might think you're an animal-testing fanatic, after all.

But add some clear thinking, action, teamwork and another heaping serving of courage, and you too could find yourself in front of a parade of committed people, marching towards a common goal! Of course, you've got to have a vision to lead. But even that isn't enough.

People who have visions in isolation are not leaders. Even saints (not noticeably practical people) only achieve results when they start to talk about their solitary visions. Leadership is, to paraphrase Edison, "One percent vision, 99 percent evangelism."Here's one common path people take to avoid asking for help: I'll do it myself! See me lift this big rock all by myself.

Good job! But it's not leadership. You can lift a rock, but we can build an empire -- by collaborating.

Collaboration is a big topic right now, but it's getting confused with "consensus." Everyone in the room thinks they get to make the decision (that's our consensus bias), but actually, they don't. It's the leader who makes the decision, communicates it, smoothes over the ruffled feathers, and then has the gall to ask the dissenters for help in executing it! And that's where collaboration comes in. It takes courage to make the unpopular decision and to ask for collaboration to support it -- but without this little step, we are all paralyzed in our consensus stew.

So to lead you need help from others to achieve your vision. Better take a deep breath and get ready to immerse yourself in other people. You'll need to talk to them, write to them, present to them, beg for help, nag for budget, jump through hoops, unblushingly show your passion to impassive strangers, beat the stragglers with a stick, shrug over the lost lambs. Just do whatever it takes to get this ragtag-and-bobtail group to head in the same direction.

It's all about communicating your excitement. Create a contagion of passion, and stop worrying about getting your hair mussed.

Or, if you are lucky enough to work in the orbit of someone with the vision and energy and courage to lead, then grab the brass ring and enjoy the ride. Just be glad it's not about pet food.


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