If I had a Euro for every client who said they struggle with leading in the matrix (not the movie), get sweaty palms just thinking about talking to upper management or feel their lack of experience prevents them from being taken seriously, I would be retired on a beach right now. These are smart, competent and emotionally intelligent people.

So, what gets in their way?

Let’s put aside the popular beliefs popping up in articles, podcasts and blogs these days about what leaders are supposed to do and the traits they are supposed to possess. I want to be completely honest with you and outline what leading in the 21st century entails.

On any given day, you’ll have the opportunity to influence your peers, bosses (you rarely have just one these days), customers and just about anyone who isn’t directly reporting to you as their manager. Consider this: leading isn’t just about you leading others, it’s also about you mobilizing others in other parts of the organisation on behalf of something greater than your department’s objectives.

I know you’re busy, so I put a list together for you of five of the most crippling beliefs and behaviors that get in the way when you try to lead in the 21st century.

If you truly want to be seen as a leader by people who don’t report to you, please don’t do these five things:

1. Be the uber-solution finder

Contrarian, I know, but when you constantly show up with the answer you limit the participation of others and that decreases the chances they’ll understand and support the final solution.

Don’t deny them the experience of being part of something that creates value. In order to be advocates for something, people need to have been part of discovering and building it.

Mobilizing people to achieve something is an act of leadership especially where consensus is king.

2. Blame others when they don’t “get it”

Our logic is just that, it sits in our head and is crystal clear to us. However, you can’t expect people to understand how you arrived at your conclusions if you don’t open up and tell them what you think, how you got there and why they should care in the first place.

When you’re not getting the reactions you expect from people, the first question you should ask yourself is, what is it about me that is causing them not to understand, withdraw from the conversation or go on the offensive?

3. Avoid your feelings

Whoever said, “it’s not personal, it’s just business”, clearly left their humanity at the door.

Productively expressing how you feel needs to be part of any conversations where you want to build mutual understanding and deep, meaningful relationships based on trust. The key word here is productively.

When you try to be super diplomatic you risk coming across as too politically correct. When you withhold your true feelings it’s hard for people to connect with you and as a consequence, they don’t see you as a leader. Try instead to bring what you’re really thinking and feeling into the conversation to set a tone of openness as a building block of trust.

4. Confuse assertive with aggressive

Very often when someone who struggles with being heard or taken seriously is given the advice to be more assertive, it triggers discomfort and fear. Right away they envision having to be loud, overly dominant and even physically imposing which are often the very traits they don’t respect in others.

The truth is, if you’re being assertive you are striking a balance between advocating your point of view (plus your reasoning) and asking open questions followed by actively listening to the other person.

The more authentic you are doing this, the more productive the conversation will be for both parties. Leaders are assertive without turning people off and damaging relationships.

5. Fall in love with your ideas

You’ve spent time thinking, analyzing and preparing a great business case. If you’re really good you got colleagues to poke holes in your logic to get you ready for push-back and challenges. You really feel this is a great idea and you can’t wait to share it.

Similar to the downsides I identified in being the uber-solution finder, falling in love with your own ideas is full of risks. Don’t misunderstand, I support believing in your ideas and even feeling super excited about them. What I suggest is more of a mindset change where you go from this is a great idea to this is a great conversation starter.

Leadership, regardless of your job title, requires you to be as open to having your mind changed as you want others to be. It’s a mindset built on valuing others’ perspectives and being curious how they come to their conclusions.

How to lead people when you’re not the boss?

If any of these behaviors sound familiar to you and you want to learn how to avoid them, I will be conducting a one-day training on August 28th at the Solvay Leadership Summer Camp. The workshop “Leading people even when you’re not the boss” will help you practice leading people who don’t report to you and avoid making these mistakes and others in the future.

Looking forward to meeting you there,

Susan West
Managing Director @SJ West Consulting