chicken or egg?

Leading Without Experience

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Which came first – the chicken or the egg? How do you get a job for which you have no prior experience? How do you lead with confidence if you have never been in a leadership role before?

According to Wikipedia, the egg came first due to a genetic mutation. You may have landed your first job because the hiring manager recognized your potential, or you had a connection within the company. The answer to this third causality dilemma is one that clients have been seeking often lately, whether it be a new CEO looking to influence his board of directors, a Vice President promoted to the executive team who is afraid to voice her opinion in meetings, or a new manager who has never lead people.

Moving from hesitant (chicken?) to confident as a leader is a growing process that can take time and be uncomfortable at first. Here are a few ideas to help you make the shift more smoothly:

1) Replace confidence with courage. 
Do you remember riding a bicycle for the first time without training wheels, accepting your first job, or leading your first professional project? All required courage and were first steps to building confidence in those areas. Being courageous means knowing that you might fall/fail, and doing it anyway. So dive in, accept the challenge with courage, and move immediately to step #2.

2) Prepare. Prepare. Prepare. (Follow Matt’s “6Ps” rule)
A good friend/cyclist/professional mechanic once told me before a race, “Proper Prior Planning Prevents P*ss-poor Performance.” Whatever new challenge you are about to take on will require extra time and effort to prepare the first time you do it. That’s the deal. Make this upfront investment – the extra hard work will lead to a better result which will help build confidence. The next time will be easier.

3) Remember: Someone picked YOU.
Newer leaders often ask, “Who am I to [lead this project, manage this team, make this decision]?” In response I ask, “Well, who hired you to do it?” Remember that you were given the responsibility because someone thinks you can handle it. Trust their confidence in you to succeed and ask for their support if you need it.

4) Shush the inner critic.
We all have our inner critics who question our abilities. What they really want is to keep us safe. Why risk public humiliation, being wrong, losing the deal, or worse – getting fired? If we listened to this message, we would never take any risk or learn and develop (“Don’t ride that bike – you will fall!”). Note your critic’s desire to protect you, then kindly ask it to step aside. You got this!

5) Borrow confidence (with caution).
Are you an expert skier? Talented musician? Speak a few languages? Identify activities that you can do with extreme confidence. Recall what it feels like when you are doing those things. Tap into that confidence reservoir and use it to support you in your current challenge. For example, before every important new customer meeting, one client spends a few minutes remembering his experience of hitting the winning shot in a championship basketball game. He uses that memory to instill a sense of confidence that supports him in the present meeting. Note: this step is only to be done after completing step #2, otherwise you can expect a poor performance due to the Dunning-Kruger effect (whereby someone is unskilled/unprepared and is not aware of it).

6) Lastly, be open to making mistakes. They will happen when taking on new leadership challenges, but will make you better. Everyone (CEO’s too) makes mistakes when taking on a new leadership role. The key is to take action and learn from mistakes in order to improve and gain confidence.

“I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.” – Michael Jordan

Leading without experience is both possible and temporary.

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On April 21, 2015
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