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February, 2012

As a Leader, do you have to take the lead? 

From our earliest memories of childhood games, a leader is defined as the one out in front, stepping out first from the others who follow. 


Ironically, this model works well as you are climbing up the ladder towards leadership, but it fails miserably when being a leader.


Taking the lead and being a leader are two separate and opposite ideas.


I learned this the hard way at work since I had excelled in my career because I perfected the ability of stepping up and being the one in front.  This worked up to the point when I started to manage and lead many others.  What I found was that this behavior diminished results. You see, as a leader when you step in too much to take the lead, others step out.  Taking the lead is a detrimental option as a leader. 


After all when you are taking the lead and are out in front, you get noticed.  The spotlight is on you.  These are all necessary tactics for advancing.  But the opposite is true when it comes to being a leader.


Being a leader and becoming the best leader you can be means unlearning everything that has gotten you to the top.  Suddenly, it's no longer about you and how you get things done, instead it's more about others and how you are able to inspire them to achieve great things.  Being out in front has an entirely different meaning when you are the leader.


The transition from taking the lead to being a leader is a difficult one.


It really is a conundrum.  The best people at taking the lead may get recognized, but may not always be the best leader.  And the best leaders may not always get recognized because they aren't able to step out in front and take the lead. 


I see this a lot in my coaching practice.  I get the "take the lead" kind of person struggling with being a great leader.  And I get the potentially great leader who can't get noticed because they have difficulty standing out in front.  Last month when Susan Cain's book Quiet:  The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking came out I wondered if the introvert/extrovert equation was at play here.


So I did a bit of my own research using results of The Birkman Method (a behavioral assessment tool) and categorizing my clients and myself.  The results showed that there is some relationship with being an introvert and having more difficulty in "taking the lead" whereas extroverts have more ease here but can be too harsh, too direct or commanding when it comes to "being a leader."


I have also had this validated in my experience as a parent leader.  Raising a daughter who is an introvert has stretched me.  Seeing how my extraverted ways can actually hinder her development has shown me that my leadership development needs are different than someone who is naturally an introvert.


So what does this all mean?


If you are an introvert, your work in leadership is probably going to be related more to getting noticed and standing out versus delving deeper into learning about how to be a better leader.  Focusing on taking the lead and finding your unique way of standing out above the rest is key.   


Since introverts are generally more inwardly focused, they tend to be more in-tune with the needs of others with varying strengths and developmental needs and can make wonderful leaders.   The issue is getting noticed in a world that is more biased to an externally driven,"charismatic" leader.


If you are an extrovert, your work in leadership is probably going to be related more to refining your tendency to step in and take command over the situation.  You will need to develop better collaboration and listening skills that can help leverage the brilliance and abilities of others.  


Your focus will be on developing the tools to be a better leader as opposed to focusing on learning how to take the lead on things.  It will be important to understand that not all situations require you to take the lead.  In fact, being a better leader often requires you to step aside and enable others to take the lead. 


Susan Cain is probably right on stating that our world is biased towards the extrovert. We often incorrectly attribute 
extrovert characteristics to leadership when in fact these are the skills we need to advance, but not necessarily the ones we need to lead others effectively. 

The path to leadership is one that requires both skills where introverts and extroverts have a great deal to offer and to learn from each other
So, do you need to take the lead in order to be a leader? 
I guess the correct answer really depends on whether you are an introvert or an extrovert!


Come learn how to tap into your life's work in an engaging workshop on March 23rd.  


Are you interested in developing yourself as a better leader and understanding what your next step should be? Consider one-on-one business coaching to help you get clear on what's next and how to position yourself for success. Contact Laura for some customized and personalized coaching.   


Laura Lopez is an award-winning author of The Connected and Committed Leader.  She is also a consultant, and a Birkman Method certified business coach who has been featured on the Today Show ,Latina Voices Smart Talk, Living Smart and Fox News.

In addition, her accomplishments have been highlighted in several business periodicals including  Personal Excellence, The Long Beach Business Journal, The Houston Chronicle, Latina Magazine, and Central Valley Business Times. Her articles on management and leadership are regularly seen in Leadership Excellence. 

Laura can be contacted via her Web site at:


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All the best,
Laura Lopez
Laura Lopez & Company
(713) 868-5025
cell (713) 828-8829