What Gives You the Right to Lead?

“Nothing can stop the person with the right mental attitude from achieving their goal; nothing on earth can help the person with the wrong mental attitude.” – Thomas Jefferson

How would you answer that question? It’s not easy and often causes major discomfort for people.

Over the past five years, I have worked with over 400 first-time leaders and have asked every single one of them this question. It has proven to be a powerful catalyst for getting them ‘in touch with their feelings’ about their new role and can help to identify, very clearly, the underlying attitudes with which they are starting their leadership journey.

Perhaps more importantly, how the answer is used to help plan their future development can have a huge impact on whether their journey will continue onwards, or peak at this level. I’ve noticed three broad patterns in the answers, each immediately suggesting (to me) an important piece of development work for the individual/s concerned.

  1. “I don’t Know” This suggests a lack of self-awareness, particularly concerning the individual strengths that person brings to the leadership role. This can be addressed with personal profiling psychometrics and/or robust 360⁰ feedback, often supported by having an internal coach or mentor to help anchor and use the insights gained – and through this support them in building their self-awareness.
  2. “My technical skills and competence”Most of the leaders I work with are often promoted for the results they achieved in their previous position. They have proven that they can lead themselves to the benefit of the business. The danger lies in making the assumption that ‘what got them promoted’ will ensure their success in the new role. Helping them recognise and see the value in their new responsibility to develop others to the same or higher level of competence they previously achieved, is key.
  3. “My boss thinks I can do it”This (sadly) is an answer that often comes from those who have not yet given themselves ‘permission to lead’. Their attitude towards the team is almost apologetic: “Sorry I got promoted, it could have been one of you.” Helping them to identify their vision of what they stand for – and how they want to ‘be known’ as a leader, is critical. The strength and clarity of that vision can act like a magnet; a beacon that draws others to follow them. Some might call this charisma.

Most first-time leaders’ answers will often contain elements of all the above. The point is, to use this as an aid in planning and prioritising the right development for that person – to help them grow in their new role.

Written by Michael Couch (Senior Consultant at The Odyssey Group)