How you lead, who you lead, why you lead… all important aspects of a developmental journey to becoming the best leader one can be, but equally important is allowing ourselves to lead. In fact, it's a crucial part of our development. This article explores why we lead and how to get past one of the biggest blockers to leadership advancement.

At some level, we’re all leaders. Maybe you’re the lynchpin in a friendship group, the head of your immediate family, a team leader at work, the head of a division, or the CEO? All are leadership positions. It's also true to say that all are followership positions, meaning we often switch hats. The CEO, a follower? Sure, CEO's usually have a board that sets directions or have to follow market movements and the actions of competitors. All of these things inform how direction and strategy unfold.

Challenge 1: think of situations in which you act as a leader and those where you act as follower. Are there examples where you act as both? Recognising when you’re in each role enables you to draw more effectively on the tools to do both, and aids leadership development.

For leadership situations, think about why you’re in that position? Is it because you want to lead people or have you somehow been pushed into it? There’s nothing wrong with either, but understanding why can help understand the path to effective growth.

Challenge 2: Do you want to lead others? If so, why? Perhaps you’ve seen examples of poor leadership and believe you can be more effective? Perhaps it appeals to your ego? (Note, this isn't necessarily a bad thing: satisfying egotistical needs can be a fulfilling experience, although it tends to work best when married with true ethical desires.) Perhaps you’ve been handed a leadership position and felt pressured into taking it or thought it was a great idea and now you want to grow into and with it?

Having established the reason, try getting in touch with how prepared you feel. Often, people come to leadership with little or no training, or prior knowledge; even if we all have preconceived notions. For instance, it’s not uncommon for new leaders to stand-up to give a talk and be gripped by an unexpected, unwanted, and unhelpful deep terror. As we journey into the realm of leadership, it's not uncommon to discover that preconceptions were misplaced.

Challenge 3: how do you feel about leadership now? Today? Connect with those feelings. If it's all good, fine, but i's common to feel a range of emotions or feelings about the subject and one's own position as a leader from abject fear to curiosity about the different aspects to it. It's relatively uncommon to think one knows it all, despite some people's outward appearances.

Responding to the first three challenges.
Having answered the challenges posed above, how the answers be used to generate useful insights and help ourselves develop as leaders? One way is to engage with our inner critic. Everyone has one. It’s that little voice that says you’re not up to the task, maybe it says you’re useless. Who are you kidding, right? Do everyone a favour… etc. It's often a nasty pernicious beast and mastering it is well worth our while because it can bring a host of benefits, and not doing so can lead to all sorts of confidence issues.

To take charge of your inner critic, try these tips:

1. Talk to it. Have an actual conversation. Out loud if you like. It doesn’t mean you’re mad or deranged. Quite the opposite. After all, you’re taking steps to defeat an inner demon with logic. What’s mad about that? Nothing. Once you start talking to it, allow yourself to answer its claims from different perspectives. These can be from anyone: your aunt Susan, a movie character, a historical figure, anyone. Use people you respect, but use different views. Allow the inner critic to make its claims, then use the logic of three or four people to argue against them. Not only will you be slaying a demon, you'll also be developing your criticial thinking skills.

2. Write down what it says and read it aloud. Personally, I find this to be one of the most valuable methods for silencing the inner critic. What can sound perfectly plausible in your head often sounds pretty daft when externalised. Write down, then read it aloud. More than once, I've ended up laughing out loud at how ridicuous my own inner critic sounds once vocalised in the real world. Once done, just throw the paper in the bin. You won’t need it again.

3. Discuss what it says with trusted friends. This can be harder because it means sharing what’s being said with others, but a supportive group can be an effective mechanism. The group needn’t be people you know. There are plenty of on-line forums you can use. If you find yourself not wanting to share what's being said with anyone ask yourself why? If the answer is because your don't want other people to hear how ridiculous you sound stop for a moment and reflect on this: your inner critic has just told you how ridiculous it is; it's so scared for being found out it's trying to stop you from externalising it. Ha! Victory to you.

4. Impose an embargo on the word ‘don’t’. Psychologist have shown that the word ‘don’t’ often has the reverse of its intended effect: it makes the thing we don’t want to think about uppermost in our minds and leads us to do the ‘don’t’ do thing. Ban your inner critic from using it or challenge it to rephrases its criticisms, then respond with: do you think that maybe doing the opposite would be a good idea? In effect, this can reverse the polarity of the discussion and trip up your inner critic.

Challenge 4: Try the above and see how you get on. I suspect you'll find it helps to silence or, just as good, allow you to ascribe less authority to what's being said by it.

Mmaybe you have other ways or getting past the inner critic, of tripping it up? If you have and you’d be prepared to share them then I’d love to hear from you.

We never lose the inner critic. It’s there for our protection and sometimes has good points to make: don’t stick your head in the concrete mixer, is probably good advice if you want to survive, especially if it's on at the time. But it’s not a very capable or well-rounded being because all it knows how to be is negative. It’s our job, as leaders, to challenge it and bring ourselves to the StoryPositive.