Monthly Archives: July 2009

The Will to Lead

 |  Leadership

The roots of true achievement lie in the will to become the best that you can become. - Harold Taylor 

A recent conversation with a leader I coach focused on the amount of time she spends fixing things for her direct reports. She had become stuck in an all too familiar pattern. She’d become ‘the problem-solver.’ As leaders, we can end up spending a great deal of time solving other people’s problems for them. In fact, many just like my coachee report that this takes up the majority of their time. How do we break the cycle?

Leadership is about empowering others to solve their own problems. It is about encouraging those around us to believe in their own ability to think a situation through, choose the proper course of action, and act boldly with autonomy. We want to inspire those around us to be ‘will-full.’ We want them to feel in control of their lives and their work. Only this will break down the culture of dependency that permeates our organizations. Only this will encourage thought and action that enables creativity and innovation. However, when it comes to a strong will, the age old question remains, “Can we give what we don’t have?”

We can succinctly define Will as:  A determination to exercise free choice and self-control. The capacity for self-determination grows out of a process of self-reflection, self-discovery, and self-awareness. This self-determination can be understood as will. The leader’s journey leads to a stronger will.

Where does will come from? It develops as a result of our developing a sense of autonomy. As we move out into the world we seek autonomy or independence. Think of toddlers racing around the house proclaiming everything as “mine!”  These wild claims happen because the toddler is developing greater independence and autonomy. The toddler is developing a sense of self as distinct and empowered. “I can get dressed by myself. I can go potty by myself. I can feed myself.” And so on. The point is that this sense of autonomy builds a trait within us that is will. Will is feeling in control of one’s life.

Exploring your own will can be extremely challenging. If you have doubts about your strength of will, let’s begin by affirming that your will is indeed stronger than you think. The very fact that you are taking this hero’s journey into greater self-awareness and self-determination suggests that you know that you are in control of your life. This indicates a strong personal will. What may be discovered here is that there is room and time for growth. Remember, to have more than you’ve got, you’ve got to become more than you are.

How might you answer these questions:

1.     Respond “yes” or “no” to the following statements.

I complain alot.     YES    NO

I always obey the rules.     YES    NO

I avoid some activities because I don’t think I’m good enough.     YES    NO

I am in the career of my own choosing.     YES    NO

Other people have gotten in the way of my getting what I want.     YES    NO

I have a great deal of self-confidence.     YES    NO

I am decisive.     YES    NO

I have no doubts about what I can accomplish.     YES    NO

I like to be in charge.     YES    NO

I spend a lot of time thinking about the past.     YES    NO

I feel out of control sometimes.     YES    NO

I prefer to let others make decisions for me.     YES    NO

I am autonomous.     YES    NO

The more ‘yes’ answers you record the more likely it is that you are a ‘will-full’ person. The more ‘no’ answers you record the more likely that personal will may be an issue for you. Self-awareness gives you the opportunity to “kick it up a notch.” If you want to overcome invasive feelings of self-doubt and act with greater ‘will’, then you will need to take a step. When it comes to strengthening your will, Nike’s slogan is the best advise, “Just do it.” If you want to “just do it”, and become more autonomous and more independent, if you want to exercise your will more forcefully, then you need to be decisive and organized.

Any successful endeavor begins with a plan. Step one in strengthening your will is establishing a plan of action. A personal strategic plan enables you to move through and beyond the distractions or unhelpful habits or comforts that keep you from being as autonomous and independent as you wish to be. You are operating according to a plan right now; perhaps it is an accidental plan. The question is whether or not your plan is working for you. Are you getting what you want, living the way you want, continuing as you are? Does your plan unconsciously involve too many distractions? Does your accidental plan keep you from the accessing the personal power that goes along with will?

Henry David Thoreau writes, “ I was not born to be forced. I will breathe after my own fashion. Let us see who is the strongest. What force has a multitude? They only can force me who obey a higher law than I. They force me to become like themselves. I do not hear of men being forced to live this way or that by masses of men. What sort of life were that to live? … I perceive that, when an acorn and a chestnut fall side by side, the one does not remain inert to make way for the other, but both obey their own laws, and spring and grow and flourish as best they can, till one, perchance, overshadows and destroys the other. If a plant cannot live according to its nature, it dies, and so a man.”

Break the cycle. See where you want to go. Believe in your vision and your capacity to make it real. Design the way forward; and step into the best possible future, a future of your own making. It’s what’s best for you and your team. What are you waiting for? Where there’s a will, there’s a way.