Independent Leadership: Free to Lead as You

person standing on hand rails with arms wide open facing the mountains and clouds

How much does freedom mean to you in your professional life? What changes in your leadership style when you know you have the independence to choose direction, navigate the path, and reach the final destination?

Freedom and independence are the very core of my being. If you think of Gretchen Rubin’s Four Tendencies, I’m a Rebel from beginning to end. Honestly, I was listening to her book on audio recently and laughing hysterically as she described it because it was so on target. In general, that means I place a high value on freedom, choice, and self-expression. I’m often a bit restless and have regularly ‘colored outside the lines.’

This understanding is high on the list of ‘what I wish I knew when I was in corporate’ because I would have been more engaged and less stressed. Objectively, I was successful for the 15+ years that I spent in Human Resources. Today, I recognize how that restlessness and that need to apply my own thumbprint both helped me – and held me back. I was interested in the work I was doing, yet felt unfulfilled and did not understand why. Failing to see or acknowledge my impatient, independent nature was a big part of the problem.

Even with that restlessness, I never imagined I’d leave the corporate world – and certainly never imagined I would lead my own business. The quiet knock of change arrived as an invitation to join a friend for a weekend of coach training. I thought, “What a great opportunity to do things more intentionally as an HR professional!” After engaging in the full iPEC Coach Training program, I realized that I’d been doing two things in my career: the stuff I needed to do for others and the stuff I did to feed my own joy and engagement. The realization – achieved through coaching – was striking.

The next step was both challenging and easy. I carved out those things I loved the most and dedicated my career to doing those – and only those – things. The result was the birth of Focus For Growth, LLC. 

Today, after six years as a business and leadership coach, I know the path to a more fulfilling, productive career starts when you allow your true self a chance to show up and prosper. Leadership is not just about having other people follow you. Leadership is also identifying your own path and leading yourself. Fundamentally, that ability to lead yourself is the richest starting point for independent leadership. That freedom becomes more accessible as you ask for what you want, surround yourself with those you choose to have near, and have the resolve to lead as you choose – whether it’s you or a broader team.

Asking For What You Want 

If you don’t ask for what you want, the answer is an irrevocable, “No!” I’m not one who seeks permission for everything I do, yet there are times when partnership, buy-in and support are critical to success. Driving toward career growth or change is one of those times. 

Once I decided to resign, I spoke with my CEO about the opportunity for an extended transition during which I would work part-time. He was incredibly supportive and, within the organization’s parameters, we figured out how to make that work. Since then, many people have been visibly and verbally shocked that I asked for that – and even more that he said yes.

The lesson here? Ask the question. My worst-case scenario was that he would say no and I’d be on my own earlier. I assessed that possible outcome and decided I could live with that choice.

Ask yourself:

  • Why are you hesitating to go after what you want? 
  • What will be different as your ideal scenario would come to pass?
  • Consider the worst case scenario – what will you do if it comes about?

Choosing Who Is Around You 

It is fair to say I stepped out on my own before I had a clear idea how I would launch and who my ideal clients would be. I wandered a while before choosing who would be in my ideal circles. It was challenging to think about who would be my advisors and help me build my business and who would be my clients and generate the greatest joy in my work.

For most of my HR career, I was assigned clients and that generally served me exceptionally well. For a long period, it changed every six to nine months, and I worked with a diverse range of people across global, functional and cultural boundaries. As you might imagine, it wasn’t easy for me to pinpoint my ideal clients since I’d enjoyed such diversity. The process I took led me to work primarily with those I’ve dubbed ‘Introverted Skeptics’ and it’s been amazing. Whether it’s clients, colleagues or a cultural environment you are considering, the questions tend to be similar:

  • What are your core values and who (and how many) around you embodies them?
  • What things do you want to talk about most – and how often is that what you are discussing?
  • If you were to design a ‘win-win’ relationship with someone, what would you ask of them? And what benefit do you offer them?

Resolving To Lead As You

When I talk with clients about considering changes, it’s either stepping into a larger role, an adjacent role, or (less frequently) flipping the world upside down and doing something completely different. For others, they are committed to stay where they are and be an increasingly effective and influential leader.

In most cases, making the change to your ideal scenario is a progression more than it is an event. This migration follows a path of self-awareness, self-management and self-confidence. It’s an ongoing process as you change and your goals shift. 

 In each scenario, there are similar questions to consider:

  • Which of the strengths I leverage now will help me in that future role?
  • What will be completely new? What will I need to absorb and learn – maybe while doing?
  • How will I define success based on what I know today?

Each of us has been on a journey that’s brought us to where we are today. My challenge to you is to question whether the seat you are in was a choice you consciously made (to join or to stay) or one that you fell into and stuck? If you feel stuck, take the time to think about what makes you happy. Define those things you want and ask for them, know who you want in your closest circles of people, and fully resolve to make the change required so you can plan to navigate it. 

My journey is just one – and yet it has taught me so much. I now recognize when I ‘fall into’ a situation versus intentionally choosing to be there. Each time it’s a learning experience – regardless of the outcome. One thing I love about coaching is the opportunity to learn about and explore the journey of others. What work do you love – and how will you energize yourself by doing it?

Beki Fraser is a certified business and leadership coach who worked 15 years as an HR leader for a variety of companies. She earned a Bachelor of Science degree in agricultural economics from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and an MBA from the Yale School of Management.

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