I’ve often heard by those who take on new roles of leadership that they feel like they don’t know what they’re doing. There is, of course, the reality that this was caused by faulty promotional procedures. But let’s assume for argument’s sake that the placement is warranted. What leads to such feelings of uncertainty? Truthfully, it’s because leadership is complicated and difficult. It reminds me of the yellow brick road in the Land of Oz. A very clear path may be available to you, but it is anything but easy to follow.
Uncover Your Emerald City
Determine upfront what the destination is and why you need to get there. Dorothy didn’t set off for Emerald City because she fancied a weekend getaway at the spa. Purpose needs to be the driver of every objective, with each objective broken down into action steps. You’ll inevitably get thrown off track by something, but having a detailed goal supported by a comprehensive plan helps you find the path when that happens. Making it up as you go along is likely to make you jump at new opportunities, which will just throw you way off course.
Know that you may start with little to no company. Toto was there to keep Dorothy company, but in reality, she knew where she was headed and set off alone. Sometimes people see a group that needs leadership for their cause, but don’t count on every adventure in leadership to start with companions. There will come a time that you may walk alone on the path determinedly, until others say, “Hey, that’s important to me too!” The key is to not get discouraged before that happens. And in the event that it doesn’t happen, you must ask yourself, “Would I travel down this path alone all the way to the end?” An honest answer will tell you what to do.
Problems will regularly exist at the beginning of the process. Dorothy is introduced to the Wicked Witch of the West right away, and decides to venture off despite the ominous warnings. Perhaps not every goal you chase will have such threats, but threats can come in various forms. Just because you don’t see any at the onset, doesn’t mean they don’t exist. Perseverance is vital at this stage – it’s the difference between choosing something else, and taking purposeful action despite known obstacles. Think of it this way – if what you set out to do was easy, it would probably have been done already.
Look for Assistance Along the Way
You don’t get to pick who helps you. Travelling down the yellow brick road brings Dorothy to three rather odd characters. Now, I fully admit that companies, organizations, what-have-you, can adopt selective hiring processes that attract a certain skillset. However, a skillset does not make a whole person and you should create chances opportunities where you see others wanting to help. Trust that you will eventually run into people who don’t want to help you. Recognize that you are one person and cannot be everywhere, doing everything all the time. If you have a plethora of help, filtering is more workable. At the beginning, when the help is sparse, be open to who is willing.
No one comes complete for your purposes. A scarecrow with no brain, a tinman with no heart, and a lion with no courage are all that materialize for Dorothy. If you focus on what others are lacking, you’re not likely to make it very far. Too often in the hiring and filtering process, we look for the complete package. Here again, if you have ample amounts of people trying to help you, this may present an easier task. But to think this will happen when you first start is being idealistic and impractical. Instead, find the strengths that people have, even if it is just a contagious energy.
Everyone has their own reason to help you. The three companions picked up along the way agree to help Dorothy reach Emerald City, but they have their own reasons to do so. You have to meet people where they are, and that means finding where your grand vision overlaps with an individual’s personal vision for their life. You can set boundaries on how the goal should be achieved and not achieved (in fact, you should). What you cannot do is tell people why they are here. A better approach is to sit down with people and invite them to share why they want to help. Then shut up and listen. With this, you have a reason to cite should they lose the faith in the face of impending complications. And speaking of complications…
Identify Flying Monkeys & Poppy Fields
There are going to be forces working against you. I know, this is obvious. Dorothy encounters the Wicked Witch, her flying monkeys, poppy fields, animated trees, and more. We already covered the doom spelled out at the beginning when charting your path to success. Here, you meet not only those problems, but ones that you could never have foreseen, and perhaps even ones that you caused by going after the goal in the first place. At the same time, you want analyze your existing problems, look for future ones, and let go of those you have little to no control over. It’s a delicate balance, but leadership isn’t a walk in the park; it’s a relationship with a dynamic and evolving system. The help you pick up during your journey is what makes it easier because one person can only withstand so much.
Each obstacle is a set of circumstances to be dealt with in step. Dorothy doesn’t try to solve all her problems at once, nor does she complicate her problems more than what appears to her. For leaders, problems inherently exist within the scope of your objectives. Given this, you are simply, but not always easily, tasked with finding the optimal solution. Optimal does not necessarily mean best; the best option may not be possible for you at a given time with your resources. It’s also conceivable that the best solution has passed you by because you realized the problem too late. Don’t be discouraged by complications—removing the emotion can help you think pragmatically about solving the problem.
When you get to your goal, you might have to turn back. Just when the intrepid group reaches the Wizard, he makes an unthinkable demand for them to obtain the Wicked Witch’s broom. It’s like getting to the 26-mile marker of a marathon and finding out someone put the signs in the wrong place, so you actually have another three miles to go. Seeing the finish line isn’t crossing it. Leaders must be prepared to adapt to new mandates of the goal. You can plan action steps, tackle complexities, and endure setbacks, but the truth in the end, is that you have zero say over what is required to complete your goal. This is why it is so important not just at the beginning, but throughout the action steps, to acknowledge and process your emotions and how they are affecting you. Failing to do so leaves frustrations and failures to eat away at your persistence. Use your team and/or a mentor to discuss what is going on inside your head. You can even keep a journal to log your emotional progression through the process.
The yellow brick road has connotations of ease and wonder in our society, but this is simply our selective memory of Dorothy starting out in Munchkinland and ending at Emerald City. Leadership can garner the same facade of warm feelings with the excitement of starting a new project and the sense of accomplishment when it’s finished. Remember, you can endure what happens in the middle so long as you allow yourself to make mistakes, learn from them, and utilize help along the way.
Images credit: MGM