At some point in every student’s college career, they have a “Not In Kansas Anymore” moment: it’s that revelatory instant in which a student realizes they are in serious need of reform, a lightning bolt thought that the way they’ve been living life up to this point just ain’t gonna cut it if they want to be successful. Maybe they need to try harder, or learn more, or get organized, or improve self-discipline. That “Not in Kansas Anymore” moment is an opportunity to identify and strengthen problem areas.
For a leader, the “Not In Kansas Anymore” moment is a rite of passage, and is rarely just a single moment. No matter what we believe about leadership, we can never really know until we become leaders ourselves, and in becoming a leader, we identify what we need to change about our methods.
It can be hard to know exactly how to make the necessary changes. It can be even harder to pinpoint exactly what the problem is in the first place. If you’re a leader and you feel like something needs to change, but you’re not sure what, ask yourself the following:
DO YOU HAVE YOUR BRAIN IN SHAPE?
The brain of a leader can be a wild and chaotic place. They need to critically think to problem solve, creatively think to innovate, analyze the people around them on levels of skill and emotion, be open-minded to change and novelty, remember details for purposes of planning…are you dizzy yet?
A good leader wears many hats and holds many roles: they need to be friend and guide and instructor. Trying to keep track of all those things is a full-time job for the Leader Brain. The brain is also responsible for setting a direction and planning routes towards the leader’s goals.
The Leader Brain is constantly making connections and discoveries, and sorting through the minutia of the world to find what’s most important. The leader must also be aware of the relationships around them, and how to put those on their team to best use based on their knowledge and skills. The brain also allows the leader to keep cool and logical under pressure.
If your brain feels like it’s on the brink of collapse, try writing everything down. From plans to ideas, don’t try to keep it all in your head! Even when trying to problem solve, it can help to visualize. Get yourself a notebook, and keep it on you, and scribble down anything that may be important. It’s like a portable hard drive for your mind!
DO YOU HAVE YOUR HEART ON HAND?
Leadership is all about people. Despite the popular belief that a leader’s only job is to be in charge, a leader works for the people they lead. Followers are taking direction from the leader, but a good leader is in tune with the desires and needs of the people, and adjusts goals based on those wants. The heart of a leader is sympathetic, empathetic, caring, and compassionate.
But the heart of a leader is also where a leader’s passion comes from! Passion is what drives a good leader, so without a passionate heart, a leader will often become stuck or lose interest and enthusiasm in a goal or project, and they will not try as hard. And if the leader loses interest and only gives half-hearted attempts at success, the entire team will follow suit. Passion keeps the team on track, and a leader’s enthusiasm is like a beacon drawing the enthusiasm out of those following.
If you feel like your heart just isn’t in it, try bonding with those who follow you. Take the team out to lunch, or plan one-on-one sessions with those following you just to check in. Although it may seem like a waste of time when you have so much to do, it becomes the complete opposite when you start listening to the needs and concerns of those around you. Even if you can’t muster up passion for a project, you can become passionate on behalf of your team, and when they see you fighting for them, they will be willing to fight alongside you.
DO YOU HAVE ENOUGH COURAGE?
Although this one might seem obvious, there’s a lot more than meets the eye. When we think of courage, we think of warriors and lions. We think of sacrifice and bravery in the face of danger. We think of grand gestures and battlefields. But we forget about the little things. Sometimes, it can be easier to be courageous against huge enemies than to be courageous against the little things. A successful leader is courageous against both.
But the leader also needs to have courage for the problems inside themselves. Most important is the courage to be a leader in the first place! A leader also needs to have the courage to trust both their team and themselves, and the courage to say no to ideas or suggestions or requests that do more harm than good.
And of course, the obvious: a leader needs to have the courage to take risks! A good leader is an innovative problem-solver, and often has to try things that have never been done before. Since it’s scary to sail uncharted waters and operate without a blueprint, the chance of failure is much higher…and it even takes courage to fail!
If you need more courage, the best way to get it is by simply being more courageous. It sounds super unhelpful, but science tells us that courage is a muscle. The more courageous acts we attempt, the more courageous we become, and the opposite is also true. So practice being brave, over and over, with the small things and big things in equal measure, and courage will eventually become habit.
DO YOU HAVE TO GO “HOME”?
There’s an old belief in the sphere of artistry: the day you call yourself an artist is the day you stop being one. It may seem silly, but there is a dark truth to it, and it applies to leaders as well. A leader is identified by passion and action, so if you have to tell people you are a leader, it means you are lacking in those essential qualities. If you think of yourself as a leader, you run the risk of falling into a superiority complex, and that elevation of self will cause you to be disconnected from the needs and desires of your people. You will lose sight of the goal in your mad bid for respect and control.
If you are a leader, then you should simply be a leader. If you think about it or talk about it, you can forget the big picture, and the day you stop acting on what’s important is the day you stop being effective. When you put your title ahead of the goal, you will never accomplish it.
If you’ve lost sight of what’s important, go “home”. Back to square one. Remind yourself why you started doing what you do in the first place. Remind yourself of the people who matter. Rekindle your passion, put yourself in the trenches, plan for action. Talk to the leaders who inspired you, and take a minute to breathe and remember who you are. Study up on leadership and communication techniques. Meditate.
Reset and refocus, and you will find that Kansas can be anywhere you make it.