"Well, I do this for a living!" he raged. He was angry. He was actually way too angry. And, to make matters worse, he really was a highly-valued and needed volunteer. What happened? A staff member had questioned his opinion and asked him to justify or explain what he had recommended. That's when he exploded.
Clearly, this was someone who was not used to having to explain himself in any way. He was very used to his authority coming from his title and, in situations where he wasn't on top of the hierarchy, he didn't have the ability to sell or explain his ideas. He had become reliant on the command and control structure inside his working environment. And, outside that environment, he was simply at a loss on how to communicate and persuade people when it was needed.
External vs. Internal Authority
When your authority comes from the chair you sit in, the strength of your voice or opinion disappears when you aren't directly sitting in your appointed seat. Comingling your leadership ability – or even your self-identity – with the title or role you fulfill within an organization or group is really common and is incredibly easy to do. The difficulty with doing this is that when you switch to another organization, retire, or interact with people outside your usual sphere, that influence simply does not exist in the same way.
For your authority to be real, it has to come from the inside and not the outside. When you develop the real underlying skills that are the keys to leadership, they travel with you. There is no mistaking a real general -- even when not in uniform.
Learn to speak well, present well, persuade effectively, build rapport easily, have empathy for others, listen actively, provide the solid data or experiences for your decisions when they are needed, and know your core competencies cold. These are the skills that will travel with you everywhere you go.
Sustainable leadership is not based on the ability to command and control within a limited environment. Sustainable leadership is the ability to influence and persuade regardless of the context you find yourself in.
Be honest about your current level of sustainability
Pay attention to moments when you are tempted to call upon your background or title as a form of persuasion. These moments serve as a sign that you need to go deeper and improve your communication skills. This is key and it is a real challenge for many leaders. It is, however, worth the work.
This is a harder skill but it's one that will travel with you as you retire, change jobs, or even careers. It is a skill that educates rather than controls.
Learn to lead from within
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