Are you free to lead?

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It's hard to lead from inside a box - cramped, dark, lit only by the peephole you poked in the side to see what's going on. Some boxes are imposed from the outside, created by wrong-headed policies, inadequate funding, or morale-draining "leadership" from above.

Some boxes are self-imposed, created by endless to-do lists, overwhelm and fear of inadequacy.

Either way, it's mighty hard - no, it's impossible - to lead from inside a box. The people who count on you most can't find you (even when you're in plain sight). Feeling lost, they create their own boxes - boxes that hide them from you, from each other and, eventually, from themselves.

Ironically, it's not easy to give up the box, for the very same box that imprisons you, protects you. The people who count on you may be scared or angry or disillusioned - and they all want you to fix it. No wonder it feels better to stay inside.

But inside the box, you are never free - never free to be the leader you intended.

Here are four ways to stick your finger in that peephole and begin tearing down the walls:

  1. Get up. Right now. Get up, go to where people are, notice something positive going on, and tell that person about it - and mean it. I don't care if there are 17 things going wrong, amplify the one thing that's going right.

  2. Call a colleague and confess. Seriously. "Meg, I'm sitting here in my dark box and I'm afraid to leave." There's something about saying it out loud that strips it of its power.

  3. Leave. I know you have 49 items on your task list. But are you getting them done sitting there in the dark? Right. So, you're in charge of you. Get in the damn car and drive to a coffee shop to work, or take a walk on the beach. Go!

  4. Name it. "Call your core team together and name it. "I've noticed that we've begun to isolate from each other. Me most of all! Kinda sucks, doesn't it? So, I want to start by saying I'm sorry for my part in that." Then have a conversation. Be irreverent. Laugh. Be human.

Bottom line? You're the leader. Go first. Take the risk. For inside the box, you will never free - never free to be the leader you intended..