You might be asking – why the title “Landing Out Front”? Its very simple. No matter how many times I back away from a leadership role – I seem to find myself ‘landing out front’ over and over again in different ways. It’s just something I can’t seem to avoid. So here’s my particular story:
When and How Did I land ‘Out Front’?
I can remember being quite shy as a child. Oh, I had friends in the neighborhood and played and had sleepovers regularly, but I was one of those small group kinds of gals. My mother signed me up for piano lessons – don’t really remember how old I was – maybe 9 or so – but I remember watching my cousin play in her recital at church. It was a huge Baptist church, and they had a huge stage with a big piano front and center. I remember watching all the students walk up the steps to the tall stage, sit down at the huge piano, and attempt to play their piece. Some did OK and some struggled. I came away from watching that event and said to myself “No way am I going to do that. I will not put myself in front of a whole crowd of people and then mess up.” And I didn’t.
When it came time for my own piano recital, I refused to do it. In fact, I quit taking piano in order to avoid the recital. Yes, my mother let me quit. Like many parents and children, she and I had struggled over practice time. I was not as committed as she thought I should be, so when I wanted to quit it was somewhat of a relief for her. The rented piano went back to the music store, and I was greatly relieved I didn’t have to perform in front of a crowd.
So if I were that shy, when did I have my ‘coming out’? I’ve shared with you my piano recital story. Later on in elementary school I took instrumental lessons in flute. We didn’t do recitals for that, but I didn’t stay with it very long. My junior high and high school were all in one building. I only remember that those of us in 7th and 8th grade had our classes in the older part of the building and we ‘graduated’ to the newer part of the building when we started 9th grade. I liked to sing and had a gift for it, so in high school I signed up for choir. Somewhere along the way our teacher put me in smaller performing groups – sextets, octets and madrigals – I really enjoyed it.
This small group activity quickly grew to having solos in choir concerts. I didn’t have to step out in front of the group. I just sang from my spot. We had a huge choir, so by the time the audience figured out where my voice was coming from the solo was over. Whew!
Then I found myself as the ‘star’ in a couple of high school musical productions. How did I get the courage to do this? I think it was just a natural evolution from a shy young girl to a teenager more willing to ‘step out front’. I also realized I had a gift with my voice, so it was OK to be heard and seen.
By then my choir teacher had encouraged my parents to enroll me with a voice teacher at our local university. I don’t remember being particularly nervous being the star in the production. I’d done enough solos in both the large choir and in small groups that it was just the next natural step. From there I went to college and majored in music and found myself more and more as the lead in a musical production and a leader in All-Sing for my sorority. I became and ambassador’ for our campus, giving tours to high school seniors looking at our college as a place to come. Then I found myself a leader in our sorority. It’s just one of those things that evolved. There was no magic moment of one day I was not a leader and then I was.
I suppose I’ve always had tendencies toward leadership…I just had to find the venue where I could feel comfortable stepping ‘out front.’ Once that was accomplished, the rest seemed to fall into place. My voice is a God-given talent, and people liked to listen to me sing. They still do. That singing voice led to another voice, one that speaks out to lead others.
Even when I choose to purposefully be part of a group instead of the leader, I find myself placed in leadership roles. Sometimes that’s a good thing and accepted by the group and sometimes it meets with controversy, especially if there’s someone else in the group who wants to be the leader. Do I do it on purpose? No. There are many times I’d rather be in the background. I guess it’s just not meant to be for me.
Do you find yourself in similar circumstances? Do you find yourself the unofficial leader even if you haven’t been elected or appointed or hired for that kind of position? It happens all the time. You can walk into a business and observe colleagues working with each other, and the ‘leader’ will reveal himself at some point. There’s always someone everyone looks to for answers. The ‘go to’ person. Pay attention to that phenomenon. This natural leader rises to the top because they have an innate gift for leadership. I call this “leading from the middle”.
Some people propose that leadership can be taught. I agree, but only up to a point. I’ve known many people who have found themselves hired to be a leader of an organization but couldn’t organize a one-car funeral! They have no natural gift. Yes, they can be taught the steps to leading a group and they can be taught the basic principles. But to coin an old phrase from my high school chorus teacher, ‘You can try to teach a pig to sing, but it will only frustrate you and annoy the pig!’ No, I’m not comparing people to pigs, but can you see the connection to teaching someone how to be a leader? There are many things that can be taught, but the pupil must first have an affinity or talent for what’s being taught in order to actually learn the lessons.
“There’s rhyme reason and purpose to everything – pay attention.” JT
So my purpose is to help you see what real leaders do, and if you find yourself in a leadership role how to become a better leader. We’ll explore how important it is to be authentic and not mask your true self to those you lead. We’ll also talk about a host of other key steps to being a good leader.
Am I a good leader? Most of those who have worked with me over the past 20+ years will tell you that I am. Do I think I am? Most of the time. But like all leaders I have moments when I feel inadequate. Have I risen to the top of my field or found myself in major leadership roles? Yes and no. That’s why this is called ‘leading from the middle.’ I’ve been in elected leadership roles in a statewide organization and a mid-level leader in a large health care organization. I was viewed by many as fully capable of leading the entire organization but never achieved that rank. I was more an unofficial leader, one who led from the middle. There’s a reason I never reached the top, but that answer will come later.