Want to Be in Charge? You Need to Recognize the Moment to Lead

It is so easy to dodge or miss a moment when you need to up your game at work.

It is important to know just when taking charge is good for you, when you might later regret not going for the brass ring. If you believe the world will be a better place because you have both the desire and the means to take charge, that’s the time for you to jump in.

It doesn’t matter if you rise up to take the lead only once or twice in your entire working life, or if you do it daily. There are so many moments when you can make a difference — by enriching an outcome, saving a great idea, defending the beleaguered or downtrodden, and, not least, expressing your own gifts and wisdom.

Signs that signal a leadership moment

It is profoundly depressing to leave a room saying to yourself, “I wish I’d said that,” or to watch a group that you could have guided fail, or to realize that you bailed on yourself. These are moments of leadership lost.

Look for these signals that reveal a leadership moment:

  • You become inflamed.
  • You want to initiate change.
  • You’re willing to persuade others to accept that change.

If you don’t care strongly about an issue, you won’t have the power to stay the course.

Others don’t have to like your idea; they only have to be convinced it’s going to happen. And if they’re positive about it, well, that’s a plus. Caring deeply, feeling that it matters greatly, will encourage you to risk stirring up the situation.

It’s very important to know how to make an intelligent and effective fuss. That’s what all the communication disciplines I’ve outlined are for.

By now you have the discipline to be clear and to say what you mean, even when you are disturbed, angry, or fiercely determined. Unless you channel those feelings into an ability to persuade others that your ideas are necessary, perhaps inevitable, your fierce feelings will only alarm your colleagues.

Being in charge? It’s not what you think

Here is the dirty little secret about being in charge: in the short term, it’s often not much fun.

Being in charge of an agreeable and like-minded team is nice, but it’s not leading. It’s managing.

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Most of us are not looking for a fight, so it is satisfying to direct a highly motivated team to a consistent set of objectives. The trick is to know when even managing well is strangling your conviction that something needs to change.

When I told Ina Garten about someone who constantly second- guessed me when I was at the State Department, she said, “Everyone tries to throw you off your game.” I never forgot this reminder that I had to both identify and defend “my game.”

There is a difference between your daily life of getting the job done and the exceptional moment of stepping into the lead, defending your game.

Granted, it takes a lot of concentration to present your truest, largest self in the fast-moving, largely indifferent modern workplace. If that’s all you do, you will still be significantly enlarging your life at work. You will be making a difference. You’ll be better at most work relationships, inspire others to collaborate, know when and how to defend your team, and make smarter hiring and firing decisions.

It’s no small accomplishment to be an authentic manager. Leading, though, requires a degree of passion and intensity that you don’t normally express in your day-to-day role.

Excerpted from I’D RATHER BE IN CHARGE: A Legendary Business Leader’s Roadmap for Achieving Pride, Power, and Joy at Work, by Charlotte Beers www.charlottebeers.com Published by Vanguard Press, a member of The Perseus Books Group. © 2012 by Charlotte Beers.

Charlotte Beers is an American businesswoman and former Under Secretary of State. She was the first female vice-president at the JWT advertising firm, then CEO of Tatham-Laird & Kudner until 1992, and finally CEO of Ogilvy & Mather until 1996.

In 1997, Fortune magazine placed her on the cover of their first issue to feature the most powerful women in America, for her achievements in the advertising industry. From October 2001 until March 2003, she served as the Bush Administration's Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks.

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