How to lead when you do not have any unique leadership qualities
The writer

How to lead when you do not have any unique leadership qualities

What’s holding you back from leading? Who said you don’t have the qualities to lead your team or the project? What are the unique qualities required to lead?
I believe the inability to step up and lead is not due to the absence but the lack of confidence in the presence of leadership abilities. 
The research conducted by Zenger and Folkman and published in the Harvard Business Review titled “Women Score Higher Than Men in Most Leadership Skills” explains my view. 
According to an analysis of thousands of 360-degree reviews, women outscored men on 17 of the 19 capabilities that differentiate excellent leaders from average or poor ones. 
Interestingly, the data shows that when women assessed themselves, they were not as generous in their ratings. 
“When we compare confidence ratings for men and women, we see a large difference in those under 25. 
It’s highly probable that those women are far more competent than they think they are, while the male leaders are overconfident and assume they are more competent than they are. At age 40, the confidence ratings merge.” 

Why do we have few leaders?

Undoubtedly, women leaders tend to underestimate their abilities than men. However, given the myriad of challenges we see around us and the dearth of leadership, I can safely conclude that many individuals, both men and women, lack confidence in their leadership abilities. 
The lack of confidence makes them decline the opportunity to lead. Many leaders lead without conviction in their abilities, whether present or absent. 
The lack of conviction leads many leaders to stutter when they accept to lead.

Reasons for the lack of confidence in our leadership abilities:              

One possible reason for this phenomenon is the exposure to larger-than-life leaders without knowing how they started and the challenges they faced. 
Many leaders we hold in high esteem took several decades to mature as leaders. 
Unfortunately, our leadership heroes and heroines are often only described at their peak and in flowery language that exaggerates their qualities. 
Sometimes, we forget that our leadership heroes and heroines started with limited ability. Such thinking makes us lose the courage to show up as leaders, thinking we do not have any unique ability. 
You may be better placed today than many leaders when they started. 
On some occasions, we also feel the challenge is complex, and whatever skills we possess, if any, pales in comparison to the scale of the challenge today. 
This mindset stops many people from trying. Yes, the challenges have always been complex in any generation, and those better placed to resolve them are those in that generation. 
I agree that sometimes leaders may misjudge the enormity of the challenge or may not be ready for a role. 
But in most cases, it’s the voices in our heads that undermine our leadership effectiveness. Here are four ideas that can increase your chances of success even when you do not have any special leadership abilities.

Replace leadership myths with truths                                     

I cannot downplay the demands of leadership. Indeed, leading any group or project is demanding. We expect leaders to show up with their best selves 24/7. However, some have believed in an idea or image of leadership that makes them feel inadequate to lead in many situations. 
WCH Prentice is right when he says, “Attempts to analyse leadership tend to fail because the would-be analyst misconceives his task. He usually does not study leadership at all. 
Instead, he studies popularity, power, showmanship, or wisdom in long-range planning. Some leaders have these things, but they are not of the essence of leadership.”  
No genetic disposition makes some leaders effective compared to others. Leadership is working with others and serving. Hence, the capacity to lead is not limited to a few charismatic leaders. While others have accepted this truth, many still work with the myth.

Lean into your past leadership experience:

There is a leader in each one of us. We are all leaders with different levels of influence and capacity. How can we know what we are capable of if we do not lean into it? 
Every leadership experience counts if the leader takes the opportunity to reflect on that experience. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, the Director General of the World Trade Organisation, recounts how the experience of taking care of her young brother at the tender age of twelve gives her the confidence to lead and tackle significant problems that others describe as impossible to solve. 
The leader’s self-esteem becomes critical to leading confident teams and projects. 
You do not even stand the chance to learn and grow if you do not have enough confidence to believe that your abilities are good enough for you to start to lead. 

Leadership is a learning journey:   

The truth is; no leader arrives perfect. And there is room for growth so long as the leader is ready to embrace learning. Leadership and learning are indispensable. 
At the core of leadership effectiveness is the leader’s curiosity, which compels the leader to seek a better understanding of the team, their strengths, challenges, and aspirations. 
This same curiosity becomes the source of growth for the leader as the leader painstakingly explores and reflects on the leadership journey with its challenges and opportunities. Every step and decision becomes a learning opportunity for the next leg of the leadership journey. 

Embrace your strengths and guard against fatal flaws:

Every leader has flaws, and you can succeed with your flaws so long as they are not destructive. They may be visible to our team members because now we are in the lead. And that is not a reason to give up on leading. We lead even in our weaknesses. 
Our leadership is defined not by our lack of flaws but by our strengths. Leaders make mistakes. Your decisions may not turn out to be right all the time. 
However, if your team trusts that you made them in the truth and for a just cause, they will work with you. When leaders start to deceive and act dishonestly, they forfeit the trust and support of their followers. 
Leadership is for everyone. The leadership journey offers the best opportunity for personal development.
Be of good cheer!
The writer is a Leadership Development Facilitator, Executive Coach and Strategy Consultant, Founder of the CEO Accelerator Program ( and Chief Learning Strategist at TEMPLE Advisory ( 
The mission of The Leadership Project is to harvest highly effective leadership practices and share them in a manner that other leaders can easily incorporate into their leadership practice.
If you have an idea or leadership practice to share, kindly write to [email protected]. Until you read from us again, keep leading.... from leader to leader, one practice at a time.

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