The Passive Person’s Roadmap to Leadership Development
Here are some tips for those of you also starting from scratch:
I was a passive person from a young age. A born introvert, I was too shy to even ask for a packet of ketchup at a restaurant as a child, so my parents would do such things for me.
I grew up and became accustomed to riding along in the passenger’s seat, accepting whatever happened and rarely holding strong opinions about what to do or where to go.
I knew leadership was a prized skill in society, but for a long time it seemed out of reach for me — taking control was so unnatural, and I figured I could get by happily in life as an independent contributor.
In high school I turned my focus toward a career in business, and quickly realized that leadership was essential for the majority of roles to which I aspired.
I dipped my toes into the realm of team-management and decision-making with business case competitions, and noticed my behavior gradually changing as a result — I was taking on a more active role in groups of friends or family, I voiced my opinions more often, I chased more aggressively after the things I wanted.
Life was changing for the better, and I wanted to continue building the skills that got me there.
This launched me on a lifelong journey of leadership development that has thus far been incredibly rewarding and life-changing in terms of personal relationships and career matters.
I’d strongly recommend embarking down this path to anyone else who is passive by nature, regardless of the type of career you choose (side note: I ditched the business route to work as a scientific researcher, and these skills serve me daily).
Based on the years I’ve spend building myself into a competent leader, here are some tips for those of you also starting from scratch:
1. Make a conscious decision to work on your leadership skills.
Becoming a better leader requires an investment of time and effort — it typically doesn’t happen without serious intent. Recognizing your own desire to improve your leadership skills is the first step in this journey. Carefully consider whether this goal is one to which you’re ready to dedicate some effort.
Additionally, think about your motivations for focusing on leadership — having a clear understanding of the types of leadership roles you want to be prepared for will help you prioritize attainment of the most relevant skills.
2. Become a student of leadership.
Fortunately, you don’t have to figure out this challenging, multifaceted skill all by yourself — lessons can be learned from great leaders all around you.
Look to people in your life and community to identify some leaders, both good and bad. What positive outcomes are achieved by the best leaders? What strategies do they use to reach their goals? When possible, ask these people directly about their leadership tactics and their path to learning these skills.
Similarly, observe ineffective leadership. Identify the behaviors that define this category and pay attention to their consequences. Knowing what not to do as a leader is just as important as understanding best practices.
If you’re looking for a little more formal instruction about leadership, there is an abundance of great books on the topic written by some of the best leaders throughout history. Check out this list to get started.
3. Learn by doing.
Like most process-based skills, leadership is best learnt experientially. This means you may need to push yourself out of your comfort zone and dive right in, even if you don’t feel quite ready — you may make mistakes along the way, but you’ll certainly grow in the process.
If being an outspoken decision-maker feels unnatural, it can help to start small: speak up more in team meetings or group projects. Plan an activity for your friends or coworkers, then handle the details of the outing yourself. As this small-scale leadership begins to feel more comfortable, you’ll be better prepared to take on bigger roles.
For students, the opportunities are abundant: look to clubs or student government for leadership positions. If no existing organizations appeal to you, start your own! Taking the initiative to create something new is a leadership experience that tops many others.
Alternatively, you could improve your leadership ability through tutoring or mentoring other students. This type of experience is especially good for developing skills such as empathic understanding and communication that are useful in daily interactions with others.
Leadership ability can also be shaped in the workplace. If you are able to pursue a position of people management, that’s perfect; you’ll practice leadership by default. If that’s not realistic, however, there are plenty of other ways to gain leadership experience in a work environment.
Are there changes you’d like to see at work? Try taking the initiative to make them happen — this may require the difficult task of influencing your superiors, but this challenge is sure to be a valuable one. You can also take on a leadership mentality in your daily tasks at work.
Think about where you’d like to see your projects go, and make efforts to drive them that way. If it makes sense, attempting to start your own project at work would be a fantastic way to gain relevant experience.
Opportunities to practice leadership exist outside of work or school as well. Volunteering with a community organization may provide leadership experience — simply taking the initiative to accomplish something in service of others is a useful and rewarding skill-builder.
For an even simpler option, look closer to home. Perhaps within your family or friend group you can practice being a leader by coordinating events, trips, or casual get-togethers. At home, exhibit leadership by organizing tasks or initiating household projects.
To accelerate your skill attainment, it’s best to an element of leadership to each area of your life — taking the wheel in a variety of circumstances will help you think of yourself as a leader, and this shift in mentality is a foundational step in building up the skills you desire.
4. Set leadership goals
Be deliberate in your path toward becoming a better leader. If you set clear intentions for yourself, you are much more likely to achieve the end result of improved leadership capacity. Think about your ultimate motivation for setting out on this journey.
Do you want to be promoted within the next two years? Is there a particular community project or event you want to lead? The end goal should shape the steps you take in building your skills.
In planning your roadmap, it is advisable to follow the SMART goal-setting strategy: goals should be specific, measurable, actionable, realistic, and time-bound.
The last point, however, deserves some further explanation — it’s helpful to set timelines for goals, but remember that this is not a process to be rushed! In becoming a stronger leader, you are transforming as a person, and character shifts take time.
If your timeline is too aggressive, you may become unnecessarily discouraged by not being able to meet your aims.
Once you’ve set your goals, write them down! It may help to post these notes in a place where you will see them frequently so that you are continually reminded and inspired to stay on track.
5. Evaluate your leadership
Once you’ve had some experience with leadership, you have a foundation to build upon. Aim to continually improve your skill set by evaluating each leadership situation.
Did your behaviors have the desired effect? How did others respond to the way you lead them? Think about what you could have done to achieve a better outcome, or more fully engage your team. It may be helpful to keep notes through this process.
Additionally, ask for feedback on your leadership performance from those you expect to provide an honest opinion. Listen carefully and integrate their thoughts into your revised leadership strategies. As leadership is a highly interactive process, it’s crucial that others feel good about your approach.
These guidelines should provide a solid launching point, but remember: there is no single route to becoming a good leader. Building leadership ability is a deeply personal and individually-driven process, so it’s up to you to shape the course of your own development.
Stay motivated by the knowledge that these skills will serve you well both in your career and in other areas of life, and enjoy the journey!