Friday, January 22, 2010

proving yourself

Do you ever find yourself having to prove to others that you are indeed pretty good at what you do and that you actually might know what you are doing? I found myself in this situation several times this past week, and realized that this thought pattern and behavior could become destructive pretty quickly, especially for one in a leadership position. Let me explain:

Not coming up through the "normal" academic ranks, I have always felt as if others might see me as not totally legitimate in my position as a Dean of a College. Perhaps I have always felt this way, especailly since most of the leadership positions I have held have been in places and situations in which I did not have much "formal" training. And yet, I have, for the most part, been successful and able to lead and move the organization to the next level. So I keep having two questions:
  1. what will it take for others to see me as a legitimate leader in my position?
  2. why do I feel this way and what will it take for me to stop feeling like this?

Perhaps it is one of the curses of leadership - leaders are often the ones thinking to themselves, "I could do that better." When given the opportunity to do "that" better, they then remember that most people following are also saying to themselves, "I could do that better." It becomes a little unsettling when you know that others are judging you...and then you remember that you were once one of them, judging whomever was leading you. Face it - if we had not been saying to ourselves (and others) " I could do that better," we would not be in the position of leadership that we are today. So here is my attempt to answer the two questions:

  1. If I expect others to see me as legitimate in my position of leadership, then I have to first of all lead (and all the implications that go with that); second, invite others to join me in my leadership; and third, find a way to let others know that they are better off because of my leadership. Of course, the irony of that is that if you have to tell others about your leadership, are you really effective as a leader? Ah, the multiple paradoxes of leadership...and of life!
  2. I think I feel this way because it just might be true - others will question my leadership capability and believe they could do a better job. And as I think about it, maybe that is a really good thing, because that means that I am helping to create other leaders. Imagine if everyone in the organization believed they could do a better job of leading than you...and then imagine that you found a way for them to develop their leadership skills so that they began to more deeply believe that they could do a better job of leading than you...and then imagine that you put together an organizational structure where all of these people could practice their newly learned leadership skills and believe even more fully that they could do a better job of leading than you...and then imagine that you would actually give them titles and positions in which they could have the responsibility, authority, and accountabilty that leaders is probably only at this point that they will realize that they cannot do a better job of leading than you, because they are doing what you do. Wouldn't that be an exceptional organization?

So I guess I am stuck in this paradox of always feeling inadequate, yet knowing that I am still doing a good job...I'm stuck in the paradox of wondering what others think about my leadership and hoping they find me both adequate and inadequate at the same time...I'm stuck in the paradox of developing others to do my job when they don't believe I can adequately do my job...I'm stuck in the paradox of having to prove myself to people whose growth occurs as they question my motives.

So to answer my questions, I guess it has to be that I had better become comfortable with these paradoxes if I want to keep leading and realize that what led me to do what I do is the same thing that drives me crazy in others - so I had better stop worrying about it and start leading.

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