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Delayed Leadership: Are You Asleep at the Wheel?

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Beth Anstandig

When we talk about leadership, our clients often think we are referring to how we manage others or build teams. So, they are shocked and confused, and even a little grumpy with us, when we take the leadership puzzle, shake the box, and scatter the pieces everywhere. We can be a bit disruptive! Which is interesting for sure, but in many cases quite necessary.

The current leadership paradigms out there are too commonly falling flat on their faces, like people running downhill too fast. If you let momentum and gravity get out ahead of you, you lose your own balance and down you go. Most leadership conversations focus outward, on the development of other people or groups. Meanwhile, the inner work of leadership is ignored.

But guess what? Leadership starts with YOU. In both our personal and professional lives, how we lead ourselves and take care of our own lives is the very essence and most potent aspect of our leadership. When we have our feet planted and balanced underneath us, we are then, and only then, the most effective and genuine as we attempt to lead others. The unfortunate news though is that many of us could be much more attuned to our own needs.

Let’s start with what might be obvious. When we talk about our leadership, we are referring to the awareness of our emotions, thoughts, actions, values, and beliefs, as well as our capacities to make decisions, state preferences, and shape relationships. Being connected to your leadership is like being the driver of a car. The vehicle is your life! In many ways, you have a tremendous amount of power if you start by being alert and aware, staying on your side of the street, and taking care of your own space. You focus on a safe speed and on where you are going. But if someone cuts you off, you slam on the breaks or honk the horn. If the road gets slippery, you notice it and slow down. You need balance your focus: I have my own driving to worry about AND I need to pay attention to what’s happening around me. The bottom line is that you stay aware and you adjust. If you are asleep at the wheel though, you either crash or you go nowhere. We call this Delayed Leadership.

It’s delayed because, at some point, you do wake up and find yourself neck-deep in very messy interpersonal situations. Perhaps you’ve been feeling pressure but ignoring it. Or maybe you are so numb and busy, you don’t feel anything. Either way, eventually you starts to notice  some aches and you hurt. In those pain spots, your leadership will indeed come alive and jolt you into action. Delayed Leadership is often jarring.

So what are the casualties of forgetting to tend to your own leadership? What does it look like if you have been asleep at the wheel? There are quite a few signs and symptoms when you have forgotten to take care of yourself.

The Inner World of a Delayed Leader

  • You notice you are resentful and/or bitter in many of your relationships
  • Once in a while, you have explosive reactions to little things
  • You would describe yourself as overwhelmed and overly busy
  • You find yourself surprised when your boundaries have been crossed
  • People who you trusted betray or disrespect you
  • You do things for others that they have forgotten or neglected
  • You are often irritable and/or tired

Does this sound alarmingly familiar? Don’t panic! Help is on the way. You can absolutely cultivate an ongoing awareness of your needs and a small herd of truth-telling supporters who will keep you honest with yourself. This will get you progressing in the right direction, for sure. But first let’s better understand some of the underlying causes of Delayed Leadership. Why do we become numb to our own needs? How do we simply fail to give honest feedback?

Why Do You Delay Your Leadership

  • You are more focused on people-pleasing than taking care of yourself
  • You are trying to control how others perceive you (Image Management)
  • You want to appear kind and easy-going
  • You are overly focused on what others are doing
  • You are too busy or too tactical in your approach
  • You forget or didn’t realize that relationships need to be maintained
  • Past experiences taught you that feedback destroys connection
  • You don’t want to be called a bossy bitch or a ruthless dictator

You’ve seen the light! Today is a new day and you are committed to staying tuned-in to what you need and to letting the people in your world know about it. Don’t be surprised when your newfound feedback process is a bit rocky. When you step into your leadership, those around you might feel and act surprised. Where did she come from? It will be a bit of a relational whiplash for others. Your learning a new gear. It takes practice to learn to lead with grace and it takes time for others to build trust. The great news is that you are finally awake to your leadership, doing what is necessary to take care of yourself, and engaged in the very heavy lifting of teaching others how you want to be treated.

Forget a day at the spa! Waking up your leadership is the most fundamental act of self-care available to you. And, as it turns out, when we are taking care of our leadership and showing up to shape our relationships, we are able to be peaceful and caring to others in a more honest and sustainable way.

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