The Leadership Habit You Picked Up As A Kid May Be Holding You Back

by | May 9, 2023 | Leadership | 0 comments

When I was a teenager I worked in my parent’s shop. It was the village store and I learned so much about people and life in that job. People will tell a young lady standing behind a shop counter anything and everything. Seriously, everything.

During this job I picked up some habits. Taking responsibility and ownership of tasks. Looking for the easiest and least boring way of doing things. And some habits about how to lead.

Many of those habits have served me well over the years. I definitely attribute my taking responsibility habit with getting me promotions early on.

Some habits turned out to be crutches, and I’ve had to work to get rid of them.

My crutch of Borrowed Authority.

Our village shop was staffed by my parents, my sisters and I, and some lovely ladies from the village. #SmallBusinessesCreateJobs

I often needed to assign tasks to the other staff, to these women who were over 50. I was brought up with the idea that older ladies were “auntie” and you don’t tell aunties what to do, you do things for them. IYKYK #AsianCulture

At the age of 14 years old, I was incredibly uncomfortable with telling an adult what to do, so I didn’t. I found my own way around it.

I adopted a leadership style of “Borrowed Authority” plus “Asking”.

So I’d often say “hey my mum wants us to get this done (borrowed authority) so can you do … (asking)?”

I coasted along this way all the way though my village shop years. It worked.

I wasn’t adorable but I was certainly sweet. And they always did what I asked.

But as I got older, and as I gained official posts of leadership, this habit undermined my own authority. As an adult, it made me look like I was just a messenger, not someone with expertise, not as someone with value.

I needed to shake off the borrowed authority. I was no longer a young girl whose duty it was to listen to and respect the adults, and do what they said. 

I needed to own that I was asking. I had to grow as a leader.

The habit that needed to go.

I still don’t dictate – just don’t ask my husband, he may have a different story 😀 

I still listen to the adults. Now I also speak my mind about what they are saying. And where needed, I’ll interrupt and redirect the conversation.

And yes the little Pakistani girl in me is both horrified and awed at my audacity.

Over the years I’ve had to consciously learn how to own my own authority: it’s my vision, my strategy, it’s me that wants this done.

So I’ve let go of the Borrowed Authority. It helped me when I was young so I’m grateful I found that solution. But like a cast for a broken leg, I got rid of it when I no longer needed it.

You don’t need to throw away all the old habits

But I’ve kept the leadership style of asking. As you may have noticed, I’ve made asking my entire profession. This habit served me then, and serves me still.

So as a leader I ask:

  • We have this problem, how shall we solve it?
  • How are you going to prioritise the tasks?
  • What help do you need?
  • I need this ___ how can you help me?

What’s your leadership style around authority? What’s working for you?

But most importantly: what leadership habit do you need to get rid of?

“What’s a leadership series? How’s it different from the thought series or coaching tips? Good questions.“ This series gives you tips to take your own leadership to the next level, and ways you can extend your own capabilities. Ready to take your skills to the next level, but aren’t sure where to start? Get in touch with me.

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