Genuine leaders are able to maintain independent thought processes that allow them to stand out from the crowd. 

Albert Einstein once said,

For those who would joyously march in rank and file, they have already earned my contempt, for they were given a large brain by accident when a spinal cord would have sufficed!

Harsh words perhaps, but the premise is that we have been given a brain and free will for a reason, so let’s aspire to greatness and not just try to keep in step with everyone else.  I strongly believe that God has wired us all slightly differently so that we can each play our part, not just to act as clones of each other.

What steps can we take to increase our independence?

Break away from others’ expectations.  The first step to becoming more independent is to stop worrying about the expectations of others so much.  There are two questions that will tell you if you are too reliant upon the expectations of others. 

  1. Do you always look for praise when you do something that you think is good work and feel disappointed when you don’t receive it?
  2. Do you focus on any criticism that you receive and allow it to impact your mood?

In between there’s a nice balance that isn’t reliant upon the praise of others for self-esteem and isn’t crushed by the slightest criticism.  Don’t do what others expect from you, do what you know is right.  Often there’s a difference.

Have your own opinion.  Something that I have seen over and over again in boardrooms is the “group think” mentality whereby everyone nods in agreement with whatever the boss, or the loudmouth, or the first person to open their mouth or the most charismatic person in the room says.  We struggle with confrontation and don’t want to be the dissenting voice, so we nod along in passive agreement.  I’ve certainly done this myself.

It takes courage to raise your hand and offer an alternative opinion, but that opinion is needed.  You may not always be right (I know that I’m not), but it’s important that we hear it anyway.  I’m sure that there are times when more people disagree with the group-think conclusion than agree, but everyone’s too afraid to voice it. 

Learn to say no.  This is a skill that I have had to learn over the years as I am by nature a very compliant person.  However, I have found great freedom in being able to set clearer boundaries around the things that I feel are important. 

A personal example is ensuring that I don’t work excessive hours so that I can spend meaningful time with my wife and kids.  Whilst people without kids, or people who place work as a higher value than family may not understand this and disapprove, it’s important to me that I be able to stand up and say no.

Do something outrageous.  You could never accuse Sir Richard Branson of being a conformist and he continues to ensure that he is heard through his adventurous and bold self-promotional escapades.  He’s a great example of someone who is happy to be out there promoting his brand and doesn’t really worry about any criticism that he receives.  He does it because he believes that as a leader within his organisation, it’s the right thing to do.

Sometimes, we get so caught up in the conservatism of everyone around us that we are afraid to do something innovative in case we cop criticism.  Stand out, stop being beige and do something outrageous.   

Surround yourself with the right people.  Proverbs 27:17 says, “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.”  When  I say right people, I don’t mean people who think like you, because then you go straight back into the herd.  The right people to assist you in your independence are people who are able to role-model this themselves.  They question the status quo, focus on their own development, have great ideas and understand their own strengths.  Everyone needs someone like that. 

Refuse to pretend.  If you find that you don’t truly express yourself when around your peers or boss, then you’re not genuinely independent.  It’s important that you can be yourself at all times.  This doesn’t mean that you have to become someone who has no restraint and goes around offending everyone, but it does mean ensuring that you don’t compromise your ideas, values or opinions just for the sake of those around you. 

Many people find this step to be quite liberating as pretending can be quite stressful and incongruent.  When we are ourselves, we are often surprised to find that people accept us for who we really are.

Learn to cope with criticism.  One of the challenges to becoming more independent is coping with the inevitable criticism that you will receive.  It’s one of the reasons why zebras run in herds, it’s harder for the marauding lions to pick them off.  However, running in the herd also doesn’t allow you to shine.

Don’t shy away from critics.  Grow a thick skin.  Understand that there are those who do and those who sit back and criticise.  Which one do you want to be?

To be a great leader, you need to be independent.  You need to tap into your own unique experiences and skills to add value and purpose to the world around you.  Your people and organisation will benefit greatly when you do.

What are you going to do in the next week to increase your level of independence?

Previous week – Aspiration Versus Desperation

Next week – Do Something Today!