The Accidental Leader

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I’m often asked to speak to women and girls on the subject of leadership even though I’m not in the ‘leadership’ profession and have no formal training on the subject. I’m an average person juggling career, family, friends and my own spirit. In fact, I don’t see myself as particularly inspiring to others and truthfully, sometimes it’s a challenge to be inspired to lead at all.

So the last time someone asked me to take up the mantle, I stopped to ask myself, why am I constantly put into leadership roles? In a flash, I thought back to my childhood. I was an extremely shy and retiring child, but my parents constantly told me that I was smart, independent and a leader. I remember listening to this praise in disbelief, wanting to turn around to see if there was some other child behind me they were speaking to. But hearing those affirming words as I matured gave me the courage to be bold, take risks and step up to life’s challenges. Because I literally grew into the role, I consider myself an accidental leader.

That actually puts me in very good company. Moses did not readily accept his destiny to lead the Israelites to freedom. In Exodus 3:11, “Moses said to God, ‘Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” For times when I need encouragement to lead, I try to remember Moses’ story of leadership. In the hopes of inspiring other accidental leaders, here are some of my takeaways from his example.

You’re here for a reason. Moses had excuse after excuse for why he was wrong for the job, from not being a good speaker to not being qualified to lead. Exodus 4:10. He was so insecure about his ability that after God knocked down every excuse, Moses still responded that God had the wrong person and should pick someone else. Exodus 4:13. Of course, God knew what He was doing when He chose Moses even if Moses “didn’t get the memo.” Sometimes we’re called upon to lead when we don’t want to, or want to but don’t think we’re capable. Moses’ story in Exodus reminds us that we don’t always control when we’re called to lead. Sometimes, whether you’re ready or not, you have to take ownership of the leadership role in front of you. It’s got your name on it for a reason.

You need support. Moses wasn’t expected to go head-to-head with Pharaoh without backup. He had God and the support of trusted counsel in leading his people out of Egypt. Exodus 4:14-17. Leaders can’t lead in isolation. Effective leaders seek the support of others to help achieve their agenda. Collaboration, teamwork and relationship-building are essential functions of good leadership. Don’t be shy to ask others for support.

You can’t lead without a strategy. It’s critical for leaders to have a clear vision of what they want to accomplish and what they must do to succeed. This is certainly more challenging for the accidental leader. True, Moses’ mission was ultimately God’s plan, but Moses’ strategic thinking and planning served him well in executing the plan, especially in times when he struggled as a leader. Having a strategy that identifies clear goals, sets priorities, marshals resources and focuses on achieving objectives makes leadership easier, more enjoyable and more effective.

Fake it until you make it. As the story of Moses illustrates, not all leadership stems from desire or ambition. For the accidental leader, it can take time to grow into the role and get comfortable with the attention and accountability that comes with it. It is important to build confidence by continually taking stock in your performance and growth. Make it a practice to seek feedback and guidance from internal and external support systems. Don’t be afraid to challenge yourself. Allow your confidence to build incrementally and eventually you’ll hit your stride and feel more comfortable in the driver’s seat. In the interim, rise to the occasion, like Moses, and try not to let them see you sweat.

Lauren Blair

About Lauren Blair

Lauren Blair is a partner at Pedersen & Houpt. A member of the firm's Litigation and Dispute Resolution Practice Group, Ms. Blair focuses her litigation practice in the areas of commercial, family law, employment law, and state environmental law. In every area of her practice, she thrives on working closely with clients to develop sound end-game strategies and is tenacious about delivering desired results. As a member of the firm's Labor and Employment Law Practice Group, Ms. Blair also counsels large and small corporate clients on employment law compliance, including on-site training for supervisors and non-supervisory employees and drafting/auditing employment policies, practices and handbooks. She also protects and defends employers against federal, state and local employment discrimination claims, and she's president of Goodman Theatre's Scenemakers Board, a group of young, diverse professionals whose mission is to support the Goodman in audience development, fundraising and membership. Her blog titled “Working It” offers a lawyer’s perspective on issues, trends and hot topics in the business community.