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Managing Yourself: Stop Holding Yourself Back

| May 10, 2011

by Jim Bruce

Today’s reading is “Managing Yourself:  Stop Holding Yourself Back”from the Harvard Business Review.  The authors are Ann Morriss, managing director of the Concire Leadership Institute and Robin Ely and Frances Frei, both professors at the Harvard Business School.

Morriss, Ely, and Frei have been studying for over a decade what gets in the way of ambitious employees who want to step up and lead.  Ely has studied race, gender, and leadership;  Frei has focused on coaching senior executives; and Morriss works on unleashing social entrepreneurs.

From their work they have identified five major barriers that lead to employees limiting their own opportunities:

1.  Over Emphasizing Your Personal Goals.  True leadership is all about helping other people be better as a result of your presence.  The narrow pursuit of your personal goals can lead to self-protection and self-promotion neither of which fosters other peoples’ success.  Focusing on others can feel dangerous.  It forces you to take your eyes off your own welfare and make others a priority.  But, if you want to truly lead you have to take risks and focus on making others better.

2.  Protecting Your Public Image.  It is easy to become distracted by paying too much attention to your own image.  Sticking to the script dictated by the image takes a lot of energy, leaving little energy for real leadership work.  At the end of the day you have to choose between impersonating a leader and being one.

3.  Turning Competitors into Enemies.  Distorting others is a common response to conflict.  It also can sever your links to reality, reduce your ability to influence, and turn others into caricatures, and perhaps, even turn you into a caricature in the eyes of others.  Look carefully at how you interact with those whose agendas are different from yours.  They are real people too, and may even support some of your causes.  Learn to disagree without being disagreeable.

4.  Going It Alone.  Leadership is a team endeavor;  leading alone is unsafe.  Identify those who believe in you and your vision.  Meet with them on a regular basis to get real feedback on you and your team’s work.

5.  Waiting for Permission.  Patience is a valuable gift to have.  But, it can be a curse for individuals seeking to step into a leadership role.  It can persuade us to keep our heads down, waiting to be recognized.  In the studies conducted by the authors, they found that most exceptional leaders didn’t wait for formal authority,they simply began to use the informal power they already had.

So, if you are an aspiring leader, take a hard look at what you are now doing and look for opportunities for you to step up.  As part of this self examination exercise, take the leadership diagnostic at the end of today’s reading.  It will give you additional data to take into consideration.


.  .  .  .  .     jim