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People were shocked to hear a professor at a major university, a very gifted and beautiful woman, confess how she became a voice of authority in her field. 'I did it the way women generally get places -- by accident. I walked into the university one day and found out there was a place available on the History of Science course. So I took it. When I wrote my dissertation, my supervisor told me it was good enough to turn into a book. I hadn't a clue that it was any good: he had to tell me.'
But was she happy with the results? She admitted that her male colleagues had achieved much greater success than her. She said she couldn't afford to teach if her husband didn't pay the bills.
Accidental leadership has its costs. You put in the same number of hours as everybody else, but without a clear goal in mind, you may not get what you deserve.
Men are anything but casual about their careers. Just take a look at the titles of these business bestsellers, written by men:
- Only the Paranoid Survive
Every one of these books is about pursuing success with determination and clear intention. Whereas the drift in women's lives towards 'accidental leadership' shows that too often even strong women aren't doing themselves any favours.
Each of us falls into this pattern at critical times in our lives when we treat ourselves as if our accomplishments have come by accident. We stop trusting ourselves. We stop thinking that we are talented and effective. We wait for people to tell us how good we are.
Worst of all, we let others make decisions about our lives, about what we should do and where we should live. Having other people make decisions is comforting. Former slave and African-American abolitionist Sojourner Truth once tried to sell herself back into slavery because she found herself afraid to make decisions about her life. As Dante put it, hell is reserved for people who don't make clear and passionate choices. They are the ones who never give themselves a chance to find work that they really love.
They are the ones who don't dare to live at the peak of their potential.
But how do you do that? Here are Seven Tips to Break Out of the Accidental Leader Syndrome
1. If something is bothering you, don't run away from it. Don't say you can't do something just because you can't do it perfectly. Allow yourself to make mistakes. Men do it all the time.
2. Find a role model, even a fictional one. Pretend you are the character. I can't tell you how many men think they are commanding some imaginary army.
3. Sign up for a course in a field you know nothing about. Peter Drucker, the great management guru, teaches himself a new subject every summer. Last summer it was Russian novels. The year before, it was the development of science in Ancient China. It can be anything. The important thing is to experience what it means to be a beginner all over again. Remembering the joy of this will prepare you to take on new projects.
4. Talk about yourself in the third person. Imagine you are telling someone new about yourself, but as if the person you're describing were not you. You'll express your strengths in much clearer, more positive language.
5. Ask your boss how you would prepare for a job two promotions beyond what you're doing now.
6. Leaders are performers most of all. Research a public speaking group and learn to face crowds.
7. Take your work seriously, but don't take yourself seriously. This will make you more open, more confident and more like a leader.