When is it the Right Time to Lead?

By Morag Barrett on August 11, 2015

Posted by Morag Barrett | August 11, 2015When is it the Right Time to Lead?As a leader, you may be wondering why you need to think about when it is the right time to lead. That’s because it’s what you do. You don’t think about it. You just do it. And so given the title, you’re probably thinking that the “wrong” time to lead is when you should be following someone else. That’s certainly a valid position. Too many cooks indeed spoil the broth. But that would be too simple. In fact, if the right time to lead meant nothing more than that, then you wouldn’t need to read this article.But you do need to read it, because there are other things to consider, and you need to be aware of what they are.When not to lead: SpontaneityOne situation in which your leadership is unnecessary would be where a group, in which you were a member, behaved as a unit spontaneously.For example, let’s say that you go to watch your favorite football team play a home game. When the team makes a great play, do you need someone to tell you to stand up and cheer? Would the fans sit quietly if you didn’t lead them in the celebration?There are professional cheer leaders who do this, but most of the people in the stands can’t see them well enough to interact directly with them; and so that means that when they act in unison, they are doing so without a leader.And so what makes a leaderless process different from one where people are led is that everyone who is involved has an intuitive sense of what everyone else is doing and will do. This is as true in the bleachers as it is in an organization.When not to lead: Process Another occasion when your leadership isn’t needed is where the process is different.Let’s say you want to buy an electric piano, so you go to a music store. There also happens to be several other people in the same store. One is experimenting with a drum kit; a second is playing scales across the full range of a clarinet; a third is playing the trumpet, a fourth, the bassoon. You even begin to feel that you’re in the “Hall of the Mountain King.” Unless you’re all warming up to play the same piece, there is no leader. In fact, it’s likely that when you start plunking on the keys, everyone else will turn up the volume so they can hear themselves better! That’s because they are there to choose an instrument, too; and they don’t want to be confused or distracted by what you’re doing.What might that look like in you organization?Let’s say that your company builds complex web sites for public and private organizations. Some people deal with information, others security, and others retail sales or customer support. There will only be a small number of people who have administrator’s rights – who can make fundamental changes to the way the site works or who have access to the code that makes the site look the way it does. These are the leaders; those who control the outcome. Those who add or change information and update the databases are left to decide the process – how they’ll do it. It’s not something that the leader gets involved with.When you should leadSo when should you lead? The answer is simple, yet profound. You should do it when it is needed and – the conjunction is significant – when you personally should be the one who does it. This is where so many with leadership ability can come unstuck. They think that because they can lead, that they should; and the truth is that there are probably others who are as capable or even more so for a particular situation. That means that you have to have not just a thorough understanding of yourself, but also the wisdom to know when you should step up to the task, or let someone else do it.It takes both courage and humility to step back and to allow someone else to step forward.Let’s look at this from a different angle. Think of the people that you’ve worked with. Are there some who’ve always seemed to jump in ahead of everyone else? Maybe you’ve witnessed this in a retail store, for example. There might be several sales people, each of whom gets a commission on all accessories that are sold. But every time a prospect walks in the door, there’s one person who overlooks the “gentlemen’s agreement” and leaps up to greet him or her, makes the sale and robs the others of an opportunity.Or how about those who remind you of enthusiastic eight-year olds who always want to be called on first because they know the answer; who exhibit excessive pride at being awarded the leadership role, but who “pout” when it’s given to someone else.What’s it like to be around people like that? What’s it like to work them when they win or lose?If you’re in the habit of rushing forward and grabbing the leadership opportunities before anyone else gets the chance, then you may earn the reputation as a kind of organizational bully. But, it you make it a habit of stepping back, allowing others to take the lead, then you’ll be seen as a team player – one who is willing to share the glory.It’s not a competitionYou must also remember that not every situation is a competition; and so if you treat all leadership opportunities as if it they are, then your reaction could be disproportionate to the circumstances. That alone could show that you lack good judgment – that you don’t know when to choose to lead – and it might mean that a role that would have been given to you instead is given to someone else.Choosing the right time to leadChoosing the right time to lead depends on two indispensable factors: whether it’s required at all and whether you should do it. In order for you to fill that role, you have to be honest with yourself. If you can say, hand on heart, that you are the right person, then step up to the plate. Otherwise, leave it for someone else. Your time will come.Related ArticlesTags »leadership development denver Share
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