Being diffident, how can you lead? May 22nd, 2012

Vinod Kumar

There are tons of personal anecdotes to this topic and hence thought of sharing some of the simple thoughts that are in my mind. Are you too shy to lead? Do you feel you are an innovator, team player, strategic thinker and yet you are being introvert and ignored? Does it hurt you that this is one quality that the management has not seen of you? I know quite a lot of us who are reading this post have some feeling within our minds. We just don’t know how to overcome the same. Let me take a step back and give you a scenario that I had been into and seen people struggle.

As much as I talk about individuals, there are also characteristics that one should see as a manager in employees. In one of my previous companies, I used to see a person be very silent in her tasks, work etc. In team meetings, she would be silent and when it comes to giving suggestions – she would be a silent sitting duck but might talk to the peer (good friend) for a brief moment. Suddenly in few moments you will see the other person giving some fantastic suggestions and most importantly taking the limelight based on the idea of someone else. Our management saw these happen but even though someone is truly talented in the team – they asked “Can this person become the team lead?”. At this juncture, this is a question more than a decision. This is fundamentally because you failed to open up in front of your own team.

My questions to you, did this person loose out on a potential career of being a great team lead? Is her promotion getting hampered with her behavior? I would argue – NO. Leaders are not born, they are made.

Leadership: the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it. – Dwight D. Eisenhower

For many of you who have known me for years think I am a natural speaker – that is a wrong. I have trained myself to be like this from my college 2nd year. I used to sweat to get up on stage, now you will argue there is no sign of it atleast today after close to 15 years of practice :).

Environment makes who you are

I wanted to do some research on this topic to see if there is any pattern. Interestingly, I found this nice paper done from the University of Wisconsin. Here the University picked some 77 toddlers from close to 368 pool and tried to monitor them for any behavior patterns, gene pattern to conclude if any of these affected the shyness, impulsive etc sort of behavior. The conclusion is interesting – the kids kept changing between shy to impulsive to extrovert to introvert as they kept transitioning from 3-9 years.

Hence this confirmed the fact that once the parents exposed the kids to explore taking calculated risks like getting new playmate, new schools, new ways to explore etc – the kid may feel a little afraid at first, but if he/she go ahead and engage despite the fear, they have a great time and learning. This took away the shyness in the individual and they start to move freely with all.

I suppose leadership at one time meant muscles; but today it means getting along with people. – Mohandas K. Gandhi

I think this experiment even with adults will yield the same result. Many of us out there don’t change the job because of the apprehensions of the new place, new job, new challenges, new friends and more. And we don’t open up at a new place easily and it is something we need to train consciously. How many of us walk around to find people and make friends in a party? That is the current acid test for you to asses yourself.

Simple steps

Someone a bit timid in groups at work can overcome their shyness with sustained effort. It has to be a conscious effort and you need to keep working on it till it becomes your second nature and natural. Let me give you a 5 step simple approach to this task in hand.

  1. Are you serious about this, do you really want to work on it? Then the first step is to get motivated in taking that unknown step forward. Be prepared mentally.
  2. Ask yourself, Where do I need to improve? No one out there is perfect, there is always scope for improvement. Find your mentor / trusted person who is there to give you candid feedbacks for you to improve. This person must know you for a while and must know your strengths and weakness and open on giving these feedbacks. Listen and give it a genuine try.
  3. After the feedbacks, think about the feed-forward. What should be the top 2 things that you need to start doing. It is like giving an exam, make a plan and some milestones for yourself. You are the best judge of your actions and you need to assess your progress from time to time. Keep a realistic and measurable goal.
  4. Find a partner in crime, this is someone other than your mentor. This person can help, guide and rehash if you are not able to articulate or make the point. And in every situation, think through what kept you quiet and what you might do next time to have the confidence to speak up.
  5. Finally, make merry of every opportunity you have that comes your way at work or outside work to make sure you break your shell.

Doing these you are just rewiring your brain from the instinct of just “being quite”. You will open new opportunities and you will become a braver soul. There is nothing wrong in airing your opinion, even if it were wrong. Atleast it is giving you an opportunity to learn.

If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader. – John Quincy Adams

Final words

Do tell me if you plan to try any of these methods. See if you can be the person who oozes self-confidence and positive energy. Speak up, stand tall and be confident. I would love to get your feedbacks if this worked for you.

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17 Responses to “Being diffident, how can you lead?”

  1. […] I wrote my last post around – “Being diffident, how can you lead?” a lot of comments had come around the topic of Manager and Leader and thought it will be nice to […]

  2. SIJIN KUMAR says:

    Dear Vinod,
    Great article again…!!!
    Thanks for sharing the valuable information and the test to asses myself.

  3. Anup Warrier says:

    Nice post Vinod ! As you mentioned in one of the comments,Its all about believe in yourself.

  4. This is another one of your gems, Vinod.

    It was interesting to read about the case study from the University of Wisconsin, on how training and the environment can help a leader evolve. I have learnt a lot and do plan to try out a couple of the recommendations mentioned.

  5. Yes you are right Vinod.
    Leaders and Managers came to my mind when I read the above comments and I could not resist myself from saying a few words about it :)

  6. Nice article Vinod!!

    With no offence to anyone, I guess one of the difference between Managers vs. Leaders is something on the similar lines as being Well Trained vs. Well Educated.

    Leadership reminds me of a couple of sayings.

    “The art of negotiating is to compromise by showing people how to get what they want, while getting what you want.” – Found it on my Archies calendar :)

    “Take Risks in Life… If you Win, You can Lead… If you Lose, You can Guide…!!!” (Read it somewhere, don’t remember the source)

    • Vinod Kumar says:

      Thanks Datta for your comments.

      PS: Interesting – This post was never about leaders Vs Managers. It is about how one can remove shyness and become more open to perform at the next level and get noticed within the organization.

  7. Very nice article, Vinod. With all due respect, I don’t agree with your statement “Leaders are not born, they are made.”. I think leaders are born. It may very well happen that one doesn’t realize the potential of being a leader and an environment can be stimulated so that the potential is realized in an individual but I don’t think you can make a leader. IMHO, we often confuse the term “Manager” with “Leader”. Yes, you can make a person a good or even great manager.

    Would love to hear your thoughts on the differences between being a leader and a manager. One obvious difference to me is that a leader “leads” (and consequently, followers follow) and a manager “manages”. A good example of manager is managing a herd of sheep. You can’t really lead them, you have to manage them so that they don’t go haywire.

    My 2 cents anyways. Apologies for a little bit off-topic comment. I hope you don’t mind it :)

    • Vinod Kumar says:

      Thanks Gaurav for the note. I think I did have that topic in mind – Leaders VS Managers. I will surely schedule one post around that to give you my views. And I agree there is a lot of confusion on the terms used. Let me address the Leader part in that post so that there is lesser confusions :)

      These are relevant comments and thanks for taking time to pen down the same.

    • Rohit Paliwal says:

      Agree with Gaurav – Leaders are different from Managers.

      @Vinod: Will wait for your thought on the same!

      • Vinod Kumar says:

        Rohit – I also agree that these two are different traits and are often misused or interchangeably used in the industry. Let me get some thought around them for sure in a different post :). Thanks again for dropping a line.

  8. Pinal Dave says:

    I have seen many individual with the capability to superior leader. They do not come forward as they do not have confidence in them self. Going over Hindu mythology of Ramayana. We have similar case of Hanuman – who had to be reminded of his capability after which he was able to lead the whole history behind him.

    This is indeed such a landmark from Vinod today.

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