What’s stopping you from leading?

by Ryan Estes, November 21, 2011
The difference between management and leadership, and questions to ask yourself today.

I touched on this topic in my first article, 5 Practices of Effective Community Managers—community managers balance strategy and community managers create change: “the most important community is the community within.”  How often are you given creative freedom in your work?  I am very fortunate to have the opportunity to work with a brilliant mind, someone who lives and breathes the industry he dominates.  I am a client media advisor for his organization, and last week he sent an e-mail to the team requesting change in 12 initiatives, Subject: “What can you do to help…Need Ya and You Need Ya;” The message was profound, and powerful.  This e-mail was followed by the weekly editorial call where he proceeded to expand on his thoughts; in the closing statement he said:

“Someday it will be you leading this team.  Someday you’re going to have to figure out how to make it all work.  Start here and start now.  Lead here; I’m here to listen to you.  Someday I hope to close shop and go work for all of you.”  

Therein lies the difference between management and leadership—leadership means asking your team to lead projects with their expertise.  Seems like a simple concept, yes, but how often have you come across this type of leadership, and how often do you pursue this opportunity with full force?  I ask this because I had to wrestle with the idea.
I wasn’t accustomed to this kind of freedom prior to working for this organization.  Yes, I’ve led campaigns and independent projects, but always under a microscope.  I was suffocated in past experiences; so much so, I hung my towel to dry for a while.  I did not want to do it anymore.  I was overworked and underappreciated, and quite frankly I was tired of putting forth so much effort into projects, causes I believed in, only to be ridiculed or unsupported.  My career is where it is today only because I finally reached a moment of truth—I refused to work under the same conditions and I demanded more for my career.  Now I choose to work for only the best, and only with the best clients.  To have this type of opportunity, creative freedom, with this particular organization means the world to me, and I say that with heartfelt sentiment and sincerity.  In return I planned to create change with the following objectives:

  1. I demanded change in myself.  Get in the boat and row!  Sometimes direct mentorship is all it takes to get rowing. Wherever you think you need mentorship, ask for help.  Ask for help, ask for reinforcement, or ask for support; whether that be from colleagues, other professionals in your network, friends, or family.
  1. I directly outlined areas where I know I can be effective and create change.  There are specific areas where I know I can create change with my strengths: community management and campaign development.  I mapped areas where I can help and I am proposing ideas for next year.
  1. I contacted professionals who can create change in other areas.  I don’t know anything about video production or mobile web development.  I do, however, know very talented professionals who can help in said areas.  If you know professionals in other fields, create opportunity!  The beauty of networking is the ability to create change and to create opportunity.

I encourage you to ask yourself similar questions:

    • How can you change today to create change in your line of work?  
    • If you’re a leader, how are you leading your team?  
    • If you’re part of a team, how are you helping your leader?

Leadership goes both ways—managers lead team members out of the darkness, and team members help leaders become better.  What you do today will determine where you end up tomorrow, a week from now and six months from now; where do you want to be and how do you plan to get there?  Start by leading yourself.  If you want change, create it.  If you want to be a manager, start managing.  If you want to be a leader, start leading.  Stop waiting to be told when and how and just make it happen; whatever “it” means for you.  Make the most of your resources right now and make “it” count.  Ask yourself, “What’s stopping me from leading?”  Then get out of your own way.

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I am a reader of bedtime stories, Brazilian jiu jitsu player, sportsman, volunteer, and friend. Hosting the Denver Business Podcast has revealed that I'm not alone in the pursuit of profit and purpose. Current obsessions include nootropics, fingerstyle blues, and simulation hypothesis. I book speaking engagements on occasion, but I prefer listening engagements. If you are interested in being featured as a guest on our show please email
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