Whether you like it or not, you're a leader

In our new book, Step Up: Confidence, Success and Your Stellar Career in 10 Minutes a Day, we talk a lot about leadership, heck we’ve dedicated an entire chapter to the subject. Why? Because as anyone who inhabits a space within an office will know, this is a complex, sensitive and often misunderstood subject.


On a practical level, our book seeks to unlock the leader within all of us; we give readers space, in our unique 10 minute career workouts, to practice the skills necessary (more of which coming up) to command at the top. More than that though, we challenge the concept of leadership as a whole - in Step Up’s eyes, we are all leaders at all times during our career.

Ok, we may not yet have a bustling team below us - or even, in some cases, aspire to have that team at all. We may just have one toe on our career path; but even then, all of us have the scope to utilise leadership qualities. When you accept that you can be - that you are - a leader already, it demystifies the concept and makes it so much more attainable.

Our book is primarily written for women. We are two working women who are doing it too, and because of that we also talk extensively about female leaders. If you are a man, don’t click the cross at the top of your screen just yet; female leadership, as the current political landscape pays testament to, is a hot topic.

And to be able to meaningfully progress at work whatever your sex, it’s worth knowing all the facts.

What's holding us back?

An advert for a sanitary pad is not an obvious place for female Leadership reform. But that didn’t stop Always. In 2014, the American female hygiene company, launched it’s #LikeAGirl campaign with an emotive advert directed by Lauren Greenfield. In it, Greenfield asked pre-pubescent girls what it meant to run, jump and punch like a girl. Then she asked grown women. The results showed the chasm between those old enough to be influenced by society, and the blissfully uninformed.

The untainted youngsters leapt and sprinted with gusto, with one five-year-old neatly summing things up from their perspective: ‘It means to run as fast as you can.’ The twenty-somethings, of course, had no such passion; to them, running like a girl meant being knock-kneed and shrieking. What the advert so brilliantly encompassed was the negative stereotyping that women hold towards themselves.

Read: How leadership has changed because of technology

And it is these biases that stop women becoming leaders.

Lauren Greenfield is an example of an exceptional female Leader who didn’t let her insecurities, fears and self-stereotyping hold her back. She is brave and visionary; she rouses emotion in others and she captures devotion to her cause. These are the qualities of a leader - male or female - and we are going to take you through our top four steps on how to not only accept that you are a leader already, but enhance those skills you already have to make you the best leader you can be.

1. Embrace your current leadership status

As we stated at the top, you are already a leader. You might not know it, but in some capacity or other, you guide others - and that can include those above you. Leaders aren’t just the ones who make up the C-suite in the boardroom. Leading is about motivating others; it’s being visionary and strategic. So really wherever you sit on the career tree, in some capacity or other, you are a leader already - you just might not label yourself correctly. 

When we present ourselves as a capable, willing future leaders (even if we’re very happy not directing the Hollywood’s next blockbuster movie) we single ourselves out as someone determined, capable, imaginative and confident. The crux of good leadership is not the number of people below us, it is how we’re regarded and how we regard others. When you act like a leader - capably and with passion - it’s hard to not motivate others in your wake.

2. Be your own leadership cheerleader

Classic leaders, those who are at the top or have big teams below them, tend to share a set of qualities that have helped springboard them to the mountain’s summit. But honing those skills in isolation is futile unless we believe that we can actually lead.

Internalising ourselves as a leader is an iterative process - we can’t decide to do it, rather we learn it from experiences over time. When we start to act in certain ways (as a leader) or instigate specific actions that assert us as a leader, we slowly trick our mind into compliance. When we, in turn, are treated as a leader we feel more confident, and when that happens, we find it easier to imagine ourselves taking charge. What we’re saying is that the first step to being a success on the leadership front, is putting yourself out there - actually taking those first steps of self-belief, for the process to start.

3. Be inspirational

At the top of our Step Up leadership checklist, is the ability to ask for what you want. Because when a team feels as though it is working towards a common goal, they are happier but more productive too.

Inspirational Leaders are crucial in the workplace of tomorrow because they reflect the intrinsic values and job satisfaction levels of younger workers through their emphasis on empowerment and alliance. When we can inspire, we bring others along with us in a wave of positivity.

More than that though, look for an inspiring team - build a band of leaders who all share the same values and understanding and it will be impossible not to succeed - and have fun in the process. None of us can work in a vacuum; we all naturally possess different strengths, so we say, surround yourself with a tribe of inspired co-workers. After all, behind every great leader, is an even better team.

4. Be visionary

Visionary leaders are able to answer the question of where they are going. They do this for themselves but crucially they articulate it for others too and by doing this, visionary leaders encourage creativity and innovation - they bring people along with them. Not only do they inspire, leaders with vision trigger an elusive state in others: devotion.

So what is vision? It is, quite simply, a matter of doing three things well.

  • Sensing opportunities and threats in the environment.
  • Setting strategic direction.
  • Inspiring constituents.

Passionate, visionary leaders, the ones who successfully transform and inspire others to their cause, need to have one key ingredient in their leadership mix: confidence.

Confidence is a crucial Step Up theme. Again it’s another complex subject that deserves more than this passing summary, but for the sacke of speed here, take it from us that you can’t lead (and we mean leadership in every sense and stage of the word) unless you have the self-belief to be able to think big. Luckily, at the heart of our Step Up movement is a belief that all essential career skills can be learnt and belief in yourself as a leader is no different. Try this High Intensity Career Workout (of which there are 49 more in our book), and see your leadership star start to soar.

Work out: Visioning leader you

(10 minutes) If you are struggling to imagine yourself as a leader despite consciously acknowledging your strengths and making sure you are working on something you believe, use this exercise to bring your vision into focus.

First, grab a pen and paper. Close your eyes and imagine that you are a leader. Don’t worry about the specifics yet, but imagine yourself leading a group. And importantly free yourself from realism. You are the leader of whatever or whomever you chose.

Start by imagining what you are doing. Use these questions to help get you started:

  • Are you leading your own business or are you in a bigger company?
  • What do you have for breakfast?
  • How do you get to work?
  • What are you wearing?
  • How do people respond to you when you get there?
  • What tasks do you do in the day?
  • How do you feel about being you?

Go through your entire day, from the moment you wake up until you go to sleep that night, and spend 10 minutes writing down (in as detailed as possible) what you’d be doing. Doing this exercise with its focus on the minutiae of a day in your life as a leader will help the image of you as a leader come to life. Leader You will feel real and within your grasp.

Step Up: Confidence, success and your stellar career in 10 minutes a day is available now. The book evolved out of the Step Up Club through which Phanella and Alice host inspiring career events in beautiful spaces for members to take a fresh look at their careers.

This is a guest blog and may not represent the views of Virgin.com. Please see virgin.com/terms for more details.


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