How to Be Accepted as a Leader
It's actually really easy. There are only 2 steps:
- Start on your own
- Ask for help
In every leadership role I've ever taken on, this is how I started:
- Eagle Scout: I did all the legwork to come up with an idea, connect with the Audubon Society of Greenwich, and acquire all the materials. Then I asked all my classmates to help. I soon had supporters, cheerleaders, and advocates when things got messy.
- Tutoring for at-risk kids: I approached the high school to offer my personal services for free. Once the program was signed off, I asked my boss if they could donate books. They offered to provide not just books, but full program support, and I've taken a step to improve the lives of kids who otherwise might not go to college.
- Everyday Heroism: I wanted to develop a set of principles that anyone could live by to be heroic. So I came up with the list, put in some time on my own elaborating on them, then invited some friends over to help me hash out the details. We've established a mutually supportive group and they are taking real steps on their own dreams and goals.
Why does this work?
Once you start on something on your own, it shows both your commitment and the fact that it is workable. This is important because when you just explain an idea, people can't always see it as reality until they can see it in front of them.
When people see you committed to making something happen, especially if it's in line with their own goals, they will get excited about your passion. And they will want to help. That's just what people do when they are excited about something.
The trick is making it easy for them to help. Not everyone you inspire will be a die-hard fan. Some will support you in principle, some will show up if there are donuts, and some will follow you to the ends of the Earth.
To get them on board, provide a different level of engagement for each:
- My Eagle Scout project could count towards my classmates' community service requirement. So that was an easy sell.
- Tutoring kids who need it is what my employers wanted to do when they started the business, there were a lot of advantages to helping me (exposure, good PR, I had already done the work), and the cost was comparable to what they already put in for business-as-usual.
- For Everyday Heroes, the friends who got involved really support me and want to help me, so they were closer to fans, but I also offered them something exciting: the chance to live at their greatest potential.
- Asking people to do work without showing up first. That's management. It's a valuable skill, but it requires pre-established authority. It's also less inspiring. The best managers are also great leaders, and good leaders know when they have to manage to get a bigger job done. But it doesn't get people on board and excited.
- Trying to do everything yourself. You can't. There isn't time, and you're not good at everything. Give people the chance to contribute their own skills and they will actually be happier than if you do everything for them. People want to feel useful.
- Thinking you have to know everything already. I struggled with this for a long time, thinking I had to be an expert for people to follow. Just start what you can. As long as you don't tell people what to do, they will see it as a shared journey, which is what good leadership is anyway: keeping the group together. And if you need more expert knowledge, you can be the leader who connects the expert with the group that cares about them. Both sides will still look to you for initiative and inspiration.
One Final Thought
Leadership isn't about showing people the way. It's just about walking the path with them and helping them shoulder their burdens, maybe showing them what you've learned, but always being open to crafting a shared experience.
If you've ever led a wilderness trip, you know that no two trips are the same, even if you've been on that trail a thousand times. You will always learn from those you lead, and they expect to be part of the journey.
And just because you're the leader, doesn't mean you're In Charge.