It Takes Time and Experience to Find Your Leadership Voice

Your Leadership Compass

Note from Art: this post was prompted by a series of questions from some early-career professionals about the process of developing as a leader.

I’ll grant you that the concept of “Leader’s Voice” is a bit abstract. In my mind, it’s much more than the spoken-words or communication approach of a leader. I suppose “leadership style” is a close neighbor. Close, but not exact.

A leader’s voice is that combination of factors: presence, demeanor, attentiveness, engagement, decisiveness, approach, bedside manner, confidence, humility, genuineness and so much more.

As an early career leader, you have little depth or breadth in your leadership voice. You struggle or at least strive to be relevant to your team members and your organization, and many flail in the process.

Over time as you gain experience, learn and build confidence, a complex leadership personality begins to emerge.  This is what those around you will take as your style, but you know that it is much more than an outward fashion statement.  It’s who you are as a person that also happens to serve as a leader.

Learning to lead is for most a journey of discovery. For those just embarking on this journey, the early phase is filled with awkwardness, uncertainty and a great deal of excitement.  It’s like going to a new high-school where you don’t know the players and rules and cliques, except now you don’t just get to be an observer or a victim.  You’re that awkward kid with braces and out-of-fashion clothing, and your supposed to be in charge.

With the passing of time and the benefit of experience-both good and bad, your leadership voice begins to emerge and take shape.  If you are conscientious about your role and charter, this voice is characterized by the recognition that title is mostly meaningless and that you serve at the discretion of those that you lead.

With the benefit of experience, your core leadership behaviors…supporting and helping, coaching and delivering feedback, and your ability to articulate vision and give it context through goal-setting and daily managing, all contribute to this deepening leadership voice.

In discussions with experienced leaders, I’ve heard many stories about that moment-in-time when they recognized that they finally were comfortable in their leadership skins. It’s usually a new leadership role, and the moment-in-time is characterized by a sense of calm that in spite of all of the unknowns, the way forward was clear.

I know my role, I understand how to use the tools of my trade and I am confident that I know how to gain the support and ultimately the commitment of the people around me,” was the description that one leader put on this moment-in-time recognition.

Another offered: “I’ve figured out how to get people involved, gain trust and provide help from day one in a new role.  People feed off of my confidence, and I work hard to make certain that it never crosses over to arrogance.“

These individuals have found their leadership voices.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

Don’t confuse the moment-in-time and this quiet confidence that I’m describing as sudden enlightenment…or as that point where learning ceases.  Developing as a leader happens in waves and it never stops. And for anyone that believes that they’ve mastered it, remember that pride goeth before the fall.

However, given experience and commitment to developing as a leadership professional, that point where you finally have found your leadership voice is the time where you are capable of elevating your game and creating the best results for yourself, your team and your organization.  It’s also when your ability to help others to find their own voices is most powerful.  Don’t squander this great opportunity.

Comments

  1. Hi Art, great post as usual! I loved the statement about the leader’s voice is a combination of factors. I found it to be very interesting as it reminds me when I first started to supervise a team of people. My voice’s tone was not just great, did not convey decisiveness and confidence to those around me. However, as I learned the tasks of my job I became much more confident than now I am trying not to be seen as an arrogant leader by my co-workers. So, I still need to work on that. Thank you very much for sharing this good stuff with us.

  2. Excellent point, Art. As I look in my rear view mirror now, I did not know as a young manager what I wanted to become as a leader. I just knew I wanted to become. Don’t let uncertainty about what you want to become stop you from becoming. Jump in with both feet, but be willing to move those feet when your eyes, ears, brain and heart tell you that the opportunity to improve can only be grasped by taking a risk and learning or trying something new. Bret

  3. Steph Cowan says:

    Hi Art, thanks for the post and the vivid description of the young leader as the awkward kid with braces…wow, the truth hurts! I have experienced post-adolescent crushing self-consciousness and self-doubt as a young leader, but thankfully less and less as time goes on. I am slowly but surely developing my voice, and this process is very much in line with embracing first principles and no longer hiding or trying to re-tool my authentic self. I really appreciate that you point out the importance of being genuine.

    • Art Petty says:

      Javier, Bret and Steph, thanks all for your comments and thoughts and sorry for my delayed response. Javier, you clearly got the memo on Leader’s Voice. Kudos for being aware of this. Bret, priceless guidance (as always!). Steph, thanks for grabbing on my “braces” tie in. I was in my literary mood when I wrote that. : ) Awesome comment from you on your process and on your very enlightened perspective of not retooling or hiding your authentic self.

      Thanks to all of you for adding to this discussion! -Art

  4. Andrew Goodwater says:

    To become an effective leader takes dedication. As soon as you think you have it figured out you are getting passed up by the competition. You have to be constantly improving yourself and your ideas. Self reflecting on what you have done well and evaluating on what you have done poorly.

    Humility, and demeanor are essential in becoming a successful leader. You have to be willing to accept responsibility when things go wrong. Many managers want to have responsibility only when things are going there way.
    I completely agree that developing a leader happens in waves and never stops. The constant change and evolution of business keeps you on your toes.

  5. Good post. I think this is one of the dangers of promoting too early or too often. It takes time to properly develop the right voice.

  6. Congratulations! This post was selected as one of the five best independent business blog posts of the week in my Three Star Leadership Midweek Review of the Business Blogs.

    http://blog.threestarleadership.com/2010/03/31/33110-midweek-look-at-the-independent-business-blogs.aspx

    Wally Bock

  7. Fantastic Post !!! , i really liked the way you summarized the qualities required for a leader’s voice and the core leadership behaviors , I too am at a level where I need to find my own voice and reading your post has given me the confidence that one day I will have my own style,behavior and voice then I too could get into the category of Best fit managers and have each of these qualities and not just couple of them.It inspires a belief that the future ,even the near future will be dramatically different from the present.
    What we all wait for is the “Tipping Point” when it could push you or enhance your abilities and self belief that you have entered into that league.

Trackbacks

  1. 3/31/10: Midweek Look at the Independent Business Blogs…

    Every week I select five excellent posts from this week’s independent business blogs. This week, I’m pointing you to posts on killer bosses, the best talent cultures, strategy, speed, and learning to lead. …

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