“You can’t lead a cavalry if you think you look funny riding a horse”
– John Peers.
Many of us have seen someone trying to be a leader, only for them to fail to get their people to follow them. And it’s not always because they don’t know their stuff or they are trying to get us to do the impossible. Sometimes there’s just that certain something missing which ruins their mastery, skill and vision. What is that certain something? They just don’t feel like they are that leader, they don’t feel like they have a right to be in that position. And those feelings flood out form them, ruining their otherwise excellent knowledge and skills.
We all know that one of the keys to great leadership is displaying the confidence in what you are doing and asking your troops to do.
And that applies just as much to our own general lives on a daily basis as it does to leaders of large numbers.
I can think of countless times where I’ve wanted to do something, but I have held back for fear of somehow looking ridiculous, and as a result I’ve missed out on a potentially good and fun experience.
And yet, my fears were undoubtedly unfounded – if I had the confidence to just go for it, to show to others that I was going to do this thing and even though I may not be the best in the world at it, I was going to put everything into it and have a damned good time doing it, then it would have gone better than I’d feared.
For years I wanted to get into acting, I always loved the idea, but I was always too scared to actually go for it because everyone (in my mind) would see me on stage not being brilliant at playing the role and they would laugh at me and anyway some of the words are daft and people would think I looked stupid…
Until one day, admittedly aided by a small quantity of Dutch courage, I agreed to audition for a piece in a production a friend was doing. It was Shakespeare, so no pressure!
The audition came, I stumbled over the words having never seen them before, and I thought that was the end of my acting days before they even started.
But no, I got the part – two parts, in fact. Yes, I had stumbled over the words, but so had everyone else because we’d not seen them before. Looking back, it’s obvious, but at the time I was focusing on my feelings of looking stupid for not being perfect.
Plenty of rehearsals followed; initially I felt I was going to have to pull out because I looked foolish, I was not getting my lines perfect, the usual. Again, neither was anyone else, obviously – that’s why there are rehearsals! I had to get over myself.
Then came opening night.
I could either get nervous and worry about looking foolish on stage.
Or, I could realise that here were the rest of the troupe counting on me to do my part – it’s not about me, it’s about all of us! And the other realisation was the audience had paid to come and see us – they wanted to see me and the gang on stage performing that play, wearing those costumes, saying those words.
So I went for it.
I was far from perfect, but I went through it, and you know what? It worked! We got great applause and went on to do several more performances of that production and I’ve been invited to audition for further roles!
All because I got over my own mis-perceptions that I was going to look foolish, built up the confidence to go out and do what I was being asked to do, did things to the best of my ability, and had fun.
What if I’d gone on thinking I would look foolish and feeling stupid in the outfit? I’d have stumbled through and let everyone down and lost the audience. And why? Because I thought I looked foolish, and so I would.
The more I think about that experience, the more I realise just how important it is to fully believe in ourselves in everything we do.
You might be leading a team at work, you might be leading a global company, you might be leading your family, or you might even just be leading yourself through some activity in private. It makes no difference. If you think you are going to look foolish then guess what? You will look foolish and you will lose your audience, your team, your self-respect.
But if you take a moment to pause and reflect, to realise that you know what to do, you know how to do it, and you have earned the right to be there – why would you possibly choose to sabotage yourself by choosing to feel foolish? You would not have ended up in your position if you were not up to the task; someone had faith in you, you can do it.
Go for it.
You can either choose to feel that you look foolish, and doom yourself to failure from the outset – in which case you owe it to yourself and everyone else to get out of there right away.
Or, you can choose to accept that you look just right, to know that you can and will succeed, and to realise that by having that confidence you will exude that confidence which will spread round the troops giving them the confidence they need in themselves, until confidence is flowing like a river from you in all directions, flooding and filling all around you, ensuring you and your team’s success.
The cavalryman has no reason to think his leader would ever look foolish on that horse – it’s where he belongs, and seeing his confident leader resplendent astride that horse helps him to feel confident in himself, knowing that all is as it should be.
For when you have the confidence to know that you look the part because you are the part, you become the part and everyone arounds you then gains the confidence to become theirpart. Even if you might not know the full details of what lies ahead, knowing you look the part enables you to be the part which enables you to act the way the part requires for any challenges.
Feeling that one looks foolish simply serves to pretty much guarantee one’s failure.
Having the confidence that one looks the part opens up all the possibilities available, giving you so much more options so that it’s never even a question of failure, it’s only ever a question of which particular successful path you will end up following.