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Seizing Leadership Moments

Dilbert's take on leadership moments. Cartoon credit: Scott Adams

Opportunity knocks at the oddest times

Leadership moments often pop up at the oddest times or when we least expect them. They are, however, important opportunities for us to step up and do what is right when it counts. 

The challenge we tend to face is the disconnect between what employers say they want (innovation and risk) versus what they reward (reliability). Taking risks can feel unsafe especially when we are surrounded by uncertainty and, at times, significant career consequences for failing. Many companies include innovation in their corporate values, however, often have rigid career progression paths or performance evaluation systems. All of which is to say, the traditional way we look at change is not serving us well – it is stifling innovative leadership.

So, how do we identify and seize the leadership moments that present themselves?

Framing the issue is part of the solution

Our thinking directly influences our actions, for example, if we are fearful of making a mistake and more so than we fear missing out on something new, then we hold ourselves back. This means change becomes a source of fear rather than a growth opportunity to develop ourselves. The outcome is anything but a recipe for long-term career success. 

If we know that our mindset drives our actions and behaviours, how do we use it in our favour? Change management, as a concept, causes angst for many whereas thinking we can influence the future unlocks a world of possibilities, ones where we could make a difference. 

The power of mindset, and making a shift, depends in large part on our ability to unpack the feelings attached to our fear and manage the risks we identify so we can stop them from holding us back. 

Unpacking fears sabotaging our leadership moments

There are a few basic steps to unpacking fears and releasing the brakes, namely:

  1. Take a good look at what is creating the fear – put it under a microscope, challenge yourself
  2. Understand what set off the fear in the first place – understand your buttons (or triggers)
  3. Identify alternative response strategies – other ways to react in the face of change or fear
  4. Practice what you preach – start behaving in the new ways you want
  5. Celebrate every time you adapt better – personal recognition for new behaviours

Let’s apply these strategies to an example. 

Seizing leadership moments

Public speaking is one of the most common social fears (phobias) that an individual faces, however, it is also an incredible opportunity to share ideas and influence thinking. In other words, a leadership moment that is to be seized if we can work through our initial anxieties and fears.

What is causing the fear? 

Perhaps it stems back to childhood and the fact that anything less than perfection was seen as a failure, an experience followed by punishment of some sort (perhaps a loss of privileges, parental disapproval, or being singled out in a classroom as an example of what not to do). The list of causes could be diverse – the impact: often a fear of failure or ridicule in front of others which holds us back from taking the risk.

What set it off?

The trigger is likely as simple as being approached with a request to speak publicly. Quickly followed with quiet dread of walking on stage and forgetting what we want to say. Or perhaps seeing the speech play out disastrously with an audience laughing at us, something akin to a bad movie.

How else can we respond?

We can critically challenge our initial thinking by remembering that we know the subject matter we’re asked to speak about. We control the presentation content, and we will walk on stage organized, practiced, and polished. How do we know this? Because we recall the times that we’ve done exactly this in other ways – perhaps a debate in class, perhaps a few words said at a wedding, perhaps a previous meeting presentation, or a previous webinar roundtable we participated in. 

Can we practice what we preach?

Absolutely we can, it is referred to as visualization. A powerful approach where the presentation plays out very positively as if we were watching it live. A confident stride on stage, eye contact with the audience, smiling, and then launching into the content and culminating with the audience applause. Positive visualization is important.

Celebrate when it is done

Once the public speaking event is done, reward yourself (in healthy ways). It takes courage and determination to work through fears to achieve growth and progress – take the time to acknowledge and celebrate it. Rewards reinforce the good behaviours we will use again in the future to replace lurking doubt or fear. 

Time to seize your leadership moments 

What do individuals who seize leadership moments share? Often, they recognize that their unique and personal life circumstances and challenges are an enduring source of resilience and grit to see anything through. Following the 5-step approach to challenge ourselves in the face of fear helps us realize our full potential.

By seizing these leadership moments and overcoming fear, we are better prepared and adapted to everyday life and leadership challenges. The choice is ours…

Your turn

Sign in to the Community Member Area or comment below to share your insights with others relating to how you seize leadership moments and conquer fears you may face.

Give it a try!

Cartoon credit: Scott Adams, Dilbert

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