Leading When You’re Not A Natural Leader

My history with leadership

I am not a natural leader. Perhaps this is a product of circumstance. Although I took on leadership positions in school, I never got to hone it once I was out. During my Chartered Accountancy articleship I preferred to be in teams which already had strong heads or to be left alone. Cut to my time practice, I overlooked audits but I was never truly a part of them. This was because I had to manage multiple audits while balancing individual work. So while I got a chance to head teams, I was always only a stepping point to the finish line. I never got to lead them. I never got to nurture them.

As a result, I was – and still am – an excellent team player. And I’m even better as an individual contributor. But a leader? A manager? To be honest I thought this was something that would occur naturally to me, but it didn’t.
When I became a manager in my organisation and got a team of my own, we worked very well together. But as time went by, it became clearer and clearer to me that I wasn’t able to lead the way I thought I could.

Part of this was because I saw leadership as a talent and not as a skill. A talent is usually innate. Natural. And some of us are natural leaders. But when you’re not a natural leader, it is vital that you don’t see it as some kind of internal failure but flip the switch on it instead. What if leadership could be learned, like calculus or French? Taking this mindset on took me time, but now that I am here, I find myself becoming a better manager with each passing day.

Here’s what I’ve learned so far:

Accept the fact that you’re not a natural leader

This is very important. In order for you to make a change, it is vital that you acknowledge the need for one. It’s easy to be in your cocoon or even tell yourself that this is your leadership style, but take the time to introspect. If you didn’t have the title, would your team still look up to you? Come to you? Ask and respect your opinions? The more you introspect, the easier it is to see the need for change.

Tell yourself that it’s a mindset

A talent is something that you’re born with and comes naturally to you. A skill is something that you acquire after working on it every single day. Even natural leaders aren’t exempt from honing and refining their leadership skills, so don’t think that leadership is unattainable. The moment you tell yourself that you can’t do it, you can’t do it. But when you tell yourself that you can learn how to be a leader – and you can – you will find yourself actively working towards that goal. Sometimes this is by way of reading books (really recommend Mindset!), sometimes it’s by confronting everything you dislike about being a manager. I’ve always despised tough feedback talk, but I confronted it this quarter. And yes, it was difficult the first time but the more I confronted it, the easier it became.

Recalibrate your instinct

We’re often told to ’trust our gut’ because our gut knows what’s best for us. But when you’re naturally inclined to avoid confrontation, your gut instinct will tell you to avoid it. These are the times when you have to actively recognize that this is your natural instinct to shy away from hard conversations and work against it. It’s not easy and it’s not intuitive, but it is necessary. Over time, you’ll find yourself naturally doing things that you were uncomfortable doing because you’ve managed to recalibrate your instincts.

Take things one at a time

Yes, you may have recognized the problem and I’m sure you’re working towards getting better but remember that it’s a process and you don’t want to be overwhelmed by it. Acknowledge that you’re not going to be a fantastic leader overnight and take baby steps that will help you achieve consistency instead. Remember that it’s a long game!

Let your team shine

Last, but not the least, let your team shine. One of the side effects of having been an individual contributor is that you often mistake credit to be the sign of a job well done. When you’re a leader or manager, it’s not about you anymore. It’s about your team and how you can enable your team. A good leader makes her team feel seen and heard. So do all you can to make your team successful – and that marks your own success as a leader.

Are you a natural leader? Or are you learning to be a leader? Do let us know your thoughts in the comments! We’d love to carry the conversation forward.