The Risks of Holding Back in Leadership

Most of us will hold back at one point or another when we could be leading with our full selves. We have an inkling of where we want to go and what we want to do. We know what we’d be good at, or at least we have a suspicion. Yet, in our everyday lives, we wait to show those vibrant colors inside us until someone invites us to do it. We stay in our current role, waiting for an invitation to further leadership. 

The most obvious way I observe this in organizations is in people who are headed for a new role, but haven’t yet been given the title. These people know where they’re going, but until they get that title, they consciously or unconsciously stop themselves from acting with more leadership. They worry too much about stepping on toes and what people will think of them, or they postpone the effort, figuring they’ll do that when they are properly compensated.

Holding back can mean not buying bagels and coffee for everyone because that’s “not your role,” or something bigger, like thinking up a new strategy for your team but not bringing it up because you’re not the one in charge. You want to do something, and you may even have a strong sense that it would be great for everyone, but you refrain. 

It feels like a safe position, but there’s also an unacknowledged risk to holding ourselves back. One problem is that we may never be given the title that lets us use our full selves. It’s possible no one will invite us to step up. Another is that we may get the title, but it takes a lot longer than it should have. We may also become frustrated and bored and live for months and years without feeling fully alive, waiting for something to happen when we could be taking initiative.

So much good can come if, when we see our potential, we remove those barriers and instead lean in with our full selves. 


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