A guest post by Marcus Clarke of psysci
It’s often said of being in a leadership position that “it’s lonely at the top.” While most leaders don’t hurt for friendship, it’s true that they often feel a sense of isolation and responsibility that can breed uncertainty. When you’re the boss, your actions have ultimate sanction, and any sensitive person in this position of power will intimately understand the internal conflict and self-questioning this can cause.
We all know that there is no tried and true method for how to be a leader: there are as many ways to be an effective leader as there are leadership positions. But there are steps you can take that will assuage some of the self-doubt inherent in leadership positions and give you the confidence to continue striving.
Here are five steps you can take to place yourself in the right leadership mind-set:
1. Look and feel like a leader
There is an increasing consensus among researchers that even simple actions like improving your posture can change your mental state. For example, changing from a closed off body position, with arms folded and shoulders forward, to an expansive, open posture, with legs wide and chest broad, can create a cascading hormone release that makes you feel more in command.
But it’s not just about looking like a leader: without adequate physical self-care, including sleep and exercise, you’re not likely to inspire confidence. As the old adage goes, you can’t take care of anyone if you can’t take care of yourself. The human body is a remarkably well-tuned machine for perceiving nonverbal cues like pheromones and body language, and when your body is giving off the wrong physical signs, you’ll know.
2. Stop talking and listen
The first thing a leader does in any situation is listen carefully to those around him. This active listening process serves to prevent phenomena like groupthink and cult of personality before they ever start. A culture of silence filled only with the sound of the leader’s voice will corrupt even the most upright and effective leaders.
If you are listening and actively cultivating the expression of dissenting opinions, that’s a good start. But you will know you’re in the right leadership mind-set if you constantly have a nagging sense of doubt on whether you are hearing all opinions and seeing all sides of an issue.
3. Take your time
There’s a stereotype out there that leaders are supposed to be able to make decisions quickly and effortlessly: The Hollywood archetype of the gruff military commander barking orders in the field of combat.
In some cases, this may be one of the qualities requisite for a good leader. But in most leadership positions today, a leader’s value comes not from quick decision-making but from the ability to undergo a slow, distributed process of deliberation. Leaders must have the ability to receive input from many different people, to adeptly locate and evaluate real data, and to make gut-level decisions guided by a strong moral compass.
It’s easy to fall into the trap of immediate decision-making. But this is not the mind-set of a true leader. When faced with a difficult challenge, if your first instinct is to force both yourself and everyone around you to slow down and consider alternate possibilities, you can trust that you are in the right leadership mind-set.
4. Find the compromise
General George Patton once remarked that “when everyone is thinking alike, someone isn’t thinking.” Absolute certainty is a convenient way to simplify complex issues, and many times the strength of a leader’s opinion can cause his or her followers to fall in line.
But feelings of absolute certainty should be looked upon with great caution, rather than with excitement or relief. If you feel that there is a simple and straightforward solution to a complex and multi-faceted problem, it’s much more likely that you are missing something than that there actually is a straightforward solution. You’ll know you’re in the right leadership mind-set when multiple sets of conflicting concerns press on you, and you feel beholden to both sides of an issue. If your mind is conflicted, you know you can trust your judgment.
5. Know when to be a follower
One of the biggest reasons leaders either enter their leadership positions being ineffective or become ineffective over time is they begin to rely too much on their own powers. In many of the greatest leaders we see a singular level of insulation from the effects of their own leadership, whether it be externally-imposed checks and balances or simply a benevolent personal blind spot.
In order to continue being effective, leaders must remember that followership is the heart of leadership. Experienced leaders know that they can trust their gut most when they feel least personally involved in the situation. When you feel like you are not acting out of self-interest, and instead acting in service of the members of your group, then you know that you have achieved the proper leadership mind-set and you are ready to move forward.
There is no one path to being a great leader. The best leaders are mature enough not to look for one. But when you find yourself beset with doubts as to the rightness of your leadership, these five steps can help give you confidence that you are in the proper leadership mind-set. And remember: if you’re having doubts that you are wielding your powers rightly, that’s one sign that you are.
Marcus regularly blogs at psysci, a psychology, science blog that examines the latest research and explains how findings can impact and improve people’s lives.