Which Came First: the Leader or the Egg?

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A client asked me in our session this week: "How do I become a manager? Do I find workshops and trainings that teach me about the skills, or do I get promoted and then start learning how to be a leader? It's a chicken and egg thing, I think."

My client was visualizing herself as the egg, just starting out. But she had just gotten finished telling me that she had supervised interns in the past, served as the project lead on her team, and was given the responsibility of overseeing a relationship with an outside consultant. She also chaired a national professional committee! This gal was no egg.

Another client last week, whose title actually includes the word "Manager," hesitated to put leadership & management in her skill toolbox because "she's always learning new ways to be better and sometimes she screws up and has to own her mistakes." 

The word "leader" can be an uncomfortable label to claim. Sometimes when we say it, we imagine that it starts with a capital L—it's big and formal, and in some other realm. Leadership. It's for someone other than me. Someone who knows what they're doing.  

But being a leader is not about having official direct reports. And it's not about always knowing what to do and getting it right every time.

This is my favorite definition: "Leadership is taking responsibility for enabling others to achieve purpose in the face of uncertainty." - Marshall Ganz 

By that definition, you can lead in all contexts and all directions—whether that's overseeing someone a level below you, taking the lead on a project with peers or colleagues, or managing up to guide those who lead you.

My guess is that you're no egg, either. Do you treat yourself like one?

Playing it small and shying away from owning the fact that you lead holds you back from your journey of uncovering and developing your authentic leadership. Sure, there is always more to learn and you will make mistakes that you need to own no matter how seasoned you are—any good leader will tell you so.

But I'm here to tell you: you, my friend, are a chicken. You are already doing it. You are already leading.