Can outsiders make good leaders? Robert Kelsey, author of The Outside Edge, says their failings can be turned into strengths with a few simple steps
There’s no use denying it – outsiders make awful leaders. Our individuality and selfishness, along with our sensitivity and defensiveness, are an explosive mix, making us ignorant of the needs of any team.
Sure, our innate creativity can inspire others to follow – as long as their admiration outweighs the shame and humiliation we heap upon them. But successfully creating and corralling team activities, as well as spotting, developing and motivating talent? Very unlikely.
Or, at least, very unlikely without some form of Damascene conversion. If outsiders can step through the mirror and realise the impact we have on them – rather than remain focused on the impact others have on us – we can become excellent leaders.
Leaders, what’s more, in tune with the needs of our team, able to unleash their creativity, organisational competence and execution skills. Yet this is an uphill task for outsiders. Here are five steps that can help outsiders become leaders:
1. Leaders need to go on a mission
Philosopher and Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl opined that “what man actually needs is not some tensionless state but rather the struggling and striving of some goal worthy of him”.
Outsiders must find their mission: a cause – going way beyond any need for seniority – that all those involved can mentally invest in. If others can at least share that mission, they’ll see beyond your other failings.
2. Leaders need to develop a growth mindset
Stanford psychologist and Mindset author Carol Dweck divides the world into those with fixed, and those with growth, mindsets.
The former consider their attributes set in stone and spend much of their time concealing self-perceived weaknesses, which is a disaster when it comes to managing or persuading others. Those with a growth mindset, meanwhile, accept they have everything to learn and treat every encounter – including with juniors – accordingly, something that helps win people over.
3. Leaders need to set goals and delegate
Appreciating your team is one thing, setting them free to achieve quite another. But the mantle of great leadership is only bestowed on those who can.
A big leap in the right direction comes from meaningful delegation – what Ken Blanchard called “one-minute management”, in which we develop a joint vision of the final result before backing off completely.
This way, they not only learn skills (other than simply carrying out instructions), they own the work, which unleashes their creativity and is highly motivating. This should be combined with personal goal-setting for every team member so they can see how their involvement in the project furthers their own “mission” as much as the team’s.
4. Leaders need to control their emotions
Emotions are probably an outsider’s biggest barrier – not least because it’s our emotions that destroy rational judgement.
Many catastrophise their fears, accentuating their paranoia and making them poor decision-makers. Others – perhaps succeeding despite themselves – develop a preening arrogance that can lead to an inevitable, and disastrous, reckoning.
Yet controlling our emotions is, oddly, a matter of including them. If we first confess our hopes and fears we can ensure they’re just one part of our decision-making, alongside other elements such as process, control and creativity.
This will prevent your team feeling they’re being held hostage to your emotions and may help defuse your reactivity: a classic outsider trait you should learn to control. At the very least, practise your apology.
5. Leaders need to develop empathy
Many outsiders have what can be called “distorted empathy”, in which we find ourselves sympathising with society’s wrongdoers because we understand the alienation that generates deviant behaviour.
Of course, it’s not unhealthy to understand the motives of others – even what drives extreme behaviour. It simply needs to be strategically employed, allowing outsiders to empathise with the agonies of colleagues and, especially, juniors.
Being in tune with their emotional needs – not just our own – helps motivate them: not through terror or false incentives, but through the shoulder-to-shoulder pursuit of personal growth.
Ultimately, as outsiders we have it in our power to develop strong leadership skills, which – in turn – will help sharpen our creativity and multiply our output.
But we must first notice the impact we have on others rather than vice versa. If not, we’ll remain the lone wolf with, at best, some disciples who have yet to tire of our egocentric and selfish pursuits. And that hardly counts as leadership at all.
The Outside Edge: How outsiders can succeed in a world made by insiders, by Robert Kelsey – £9.99 Capstone
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