We all face certain leadership challenges. For instance, some people are deathly afraid to admit that they are not perfect, or that they are weak, or that they lack a certain level of confidence. I wanted to take a second to challenge these ideas in your head if you so happen to harbor them, especially when it comes to your leadership capabilities.
There are numerous examples that I could provide to demonstrate how my leadership has been challenged, slowed, or completely impacted by any number of forces. I have selected four examples that seem most relevant, but at the same time, highly connected to one another and the ultimate point.
Being a leader is in of itself, a challenge. For me, developing an interest in Leadership, and becoming a leader (being the youngest sibling) has been a challenge all the way around. I am the youngest of all my brothers. Study after study on birth order and leadership suggests that first-born kids are more likely to become “Leader” material over their younger siblings (Jones, 2007). In fact, world leaders are also overwhelmingly first-born children (Psychologies , 2012).
My older brothers are indeed leaders, each in their own regard. There is no disputing this so the idea of becoming a leader in a family of leaders can be a daunting one. Sometimes, I am a little amazed at the progress that I have made as far as the pecking order goes.
Being the youngest, it has taken a lot of time and work to see my leadership capabilities for what they are. The internal questions that arise from time to time such as “Do I have everyone fooled?” or “Am I just pretending to be a grownup?” or “Am I really ready for this?” etc, demonstrate that sometimes the internal struggles weigh heavy, even for guys like me. This may be simply because I view my brothers as great leaders and myself as the baby brother.
Still, I have been able to overcome this self doubt in many ways by my achievements alone; however I feel questions of doubt may always creep in because success is so hard to measure. I have to recognize my worth and attempt to achieve more than my older siblings. Not in a competitive fashion against them per say, but for internal reason that are never addressed to my brothers. It is as though I must prove to myself that I am every bit as good as them. I just really think highly of them is the point. I'm sure we all have that "hero" that we measure ourselves against. This can be both good and bad though. We have to remember that we are all different and that we all bring different things to the table. Even against those with whom we compete with.
The lasting result here has been positive. I am generally looked upon in my family as a “leader” but the paradigm is an interesting one in that our family decisions are very collaborative. We are all leaders in this regard. Just for an example, my second oldest brother is a Master Sergeant and very used to making decisions. And this will forever be an unusual situation because growing up, I was always told to shut up and go play. Now my opinions are valued and sought by the family unit. Still, my personal drive for equal status in the family has driven me to achieve things I would have never guessed I would have done originally, such as higher education for example.
Of course, we grew up kind of rough and moved around a lot. I would say that I did not have a solid peer group until well into High School. So, developing some kind of hierarchy within a peer group was impossible for many years and very difficult to figure out when the opportunity finally arose. Oddly enough, I more or less bypassed the politics of different peer groups and just did my own thing, which bred followers. This also allowed me to become friends with kids outside of my own little group. I was always friends with each little sub-group and often found myself participating in all of them. I was a jock, a choir member, a thespian, and an honor student. I wanted to experience all and didn’t understand the labels that came with each little sub-group. I suppose I still don’t in many ways.
The lasting result here is that today I still hold many of the same friends that I did after just being myself and doing my own thing. These are strong friendships! This method has allowed me to venture off into new areas and ideas when it comes to business too. For the majority of my adult life, I have been self-employed, in an industry that requires skills that I taught myself to utilize. This has been an amazing experience. It has only been in the last several years that I have begun exploring the corporate world and seeking leadership positions there. My life experience thus far has been a tremendous asset in this regard as I am viewed as someone who can reach across what are believed to be political boundaries within the organization I currently find myself. This has required little of me actually. Honestly, I just go with my gut and make decisions based off of Occam’s Razor. The point is that I am using what I know and applying it the best I can.
Still, we must always strive to overcome the internal struggles and self-doubt because we have a strong foundation in right and wrong and we are able to make quick decisions accordingly. These decisions may be questionable at the time, but we must trust that they were the right decisions nonetheless. I suppose the biggest struggle can be learning to trust yourself.
Making decisions that are questionable is a direct challenge to your leadership. Others can see these as stupid or wrong at the time but a leader must “know” that what they have decided is the right thing. Decisions are at the heart of leader's success and knowing what is right or wrong is crucial. Perhaps this why I find education to be so valuable. I am constantly researching anything I can get my hands on, because I feel that the only way I can be an effective leader is to have the information when it is needed, or to have enough information to make an informed decision when a decision is required. So I learn about everything.
It is often said that fear comes from the unknown. Attempting to make leadership decisions with fear, lack of confidence, insecurity, impatience, intolerance, etc, can greatly hinder a leader’s ability to function, especially in the eyes of their followers. These are all barriers to leadership. I know that I am not perfect, but perfection is also not required. I know that I must acknowledge and overcome these factors if I am going to be a good leader.
If I have the information, I will have less fear and will be more tolerant. If I have less fear, I will have greater confidence. This helps to eliminate insecurity. My impatience is recognized as well and while it is a daily struggle, the fact that I can see this in myself is a start. But notice that I am simply using self-analysis to figure out ways to better my position. This is not some mystical process.
As you can see in the examples provided, my leadership is constantly challenged by both internal and external forces. And each time my leadership is challenged; I basically just attempt to make the best decisions I can at the time utilizing my foundation of information and right and wrong, and know that I am doing the best that I can at the time with what I have before me. Then, I simply learn from the experience, expand on it, and make better decisions down the road. The lasting result is future success and of course the benefit of having learned from the situation at hand.
The ultimately point that I want you to take away from this is that we are not perfect. Nobody is. However, if I can do this... so can you. So don't give up. Embrace your weaknesses. Do not hide them. Use them. Learn from them. The best leaders are the ones who can. In fact, learn as much as you can about anything you can. Become better. Allow yourself to be challenged. You will fall, you will fail, but you can get back up and be better for it.
Resources for Leadership Challenges:
McCauley, C. D., Moxley, R. S., Van, V. E., & Center for Creative Leadership. (1998). The Center for Creative Leadership handbook of leadership development. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Jones, D. (2007, September 04). First-born kids become ceo material. Retrieved from http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/money/companies/management/2007-09-03-ceo-birth_N.htm
Psychologies (2012, July 05). The birth order effect. Retrieved from http://www.psychologies.co.uk/family/the-birth-order-effect.html