How To Project Leadership

August 21, 2023

by Wil Schroter

There you are, sitting at the head of the conference table staring into the faces of your new subordinates. They know you’ve never led this group before. They know you’re new to this leadership position. Heck, they may even be aware that you’ve never held a leadership position since you were the captain of your foosball team.

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As a result, you might be asking yourself, “How do I project the leadership skills of Napoleon Bonaparte when my team is looking at me like Napoleon Dynamite?”

The short answer is: You fake it. But faking leadership is an art form in and of itself, and one that has been practiced by newly minted leaders that range from ancient royal princes to President George W. Bush.

There are a few ways to legitimately project leadership, and they all come down to knowing how to manage your power position without revealing how little you actually know. Most new leaders are capable of leading, but they must first face the challenge and understand the role and process of being a leader.

Lead the charge
The hallmark of a good leader is his ability to set the tone of the organization. That means showing up first and leaving last. It means that if you want your salespeople to make 50 phone calls per day, show them you’re willing to make 100.

No one can discredit a leader who is willing to work harder than everyone else. That’s why certain generals are famous; they led the charge into battle, demonstrating a willingness to lead and to assume more risk than anyone else.

Say as little as possible
Very often the most commanding role you can take in a meeting is to say nothing at all. Young people harbor the misconception that the smartest guy in the room does all the talking and is, therefore, in the leadership role. Later on they learn that the smartest guy in the room needs to say the least.

If you’re in a leadership position, and you want to project an image of being more confident and more mature, keep your mouth shut in a meeting and stay intently focused on the conversation. When you do speak, your words will carry more weight.

Listen first, speak second
Instead of rushing into quick decisions, try to absorb as much information as possible. It’s amazing how many suggestions you won’t make if you spend more time listening than speaking.

In our everyday conversations, we’re eager to share our points of view on a variety of topics, maybe about a movie or our favorite sports team. In those circumstances, it’s unnecessary to choose our words very carefully and the consequences of being incredibly wrong are minor. In the context of a leadership role, though, those rules change significantly.

Often the solution to a problem requires you to spend a great deal of time listening to other people’s points of view before forming your own. If possible, because it’s an effective way to project leadership, have the last word in the meeting once you’ve collected as much information as possible.

Ask lots of questions
A common misconception that many people have is that those who ask lots of questions must have the fewest number of answers. Not so. The smartest leaders learn to ask lots of questions in order to get to the bottom of challenges. Learn to dig. Most leadership decisions become very obvious when a manager digs deep enough into the problem.

What you’ll also find is that many “obvious” questions go unanswered because the answers seem equally obvious. If a project is behind and no one seems to know why, don’t just stop at “who’s responsible?” Find out the entire order of events and begin to see if there is a larger problem behind why the work isn’t getting done. Many larger problems go overlooked by unseasoned managers because they are afraid to ask the hard questions.

Make firm decisions
A bold leader makes confident decisions. Waffling on an issue is a horrible way to project the importance of your decision.

Imagine an army general giving his squad the command to take a hill and then, halfway into the order, pausing to say, “Well, maybe we shouldn’t.” Even if it’s a bad decision, your troops want to know that it’s the only decision you’re willing to support.

This doesn’t mean that you can’t change your mind, but if you do, be sure to make those changes few and far between and only in the most dire of circumstances. Every time you change your mind there is a ripple effect — it not only makes people question your current decision, it causes them to potentially question other decisions down the road.

Everyone fakes it
Don’t worry if you have to pretend that you know what you’re doing during your first time at bat as a leader — everyone does. Most companies don’t offer leadership orientation courses; it’s more of a trial by fire.

Besides, leadership isn’t about what you read in a book or learn in a class; it’s an inherent skill that comes down to knowing how to communicate well and project the confidence of your own abilities. That takes practice, which pretty much means that while you’re practicing, you’re going to fake it.


5 Responses to “How To Project Leadership”

  1. Charlie on August 21st, 2007 10:45 pm

    Leading the charge is probably the best thing a newly appointed leader can do with regards to projecting leadership because we know that people look up to leaders who set good examples and are always willing to do it for the good of the group.

  2. Richard Laurensen on August 22nd, 2007 1:50 pm

    Good points made in all aspects discussed above. Leadership is hard to teach, the principles of good leadership can be explained, but development and effectiveness comes in the execution of leadership duties and communication. Leadership is certainly not found the reading of self-help books, it’s learned and developed after someone is put into a leadership postion. In the meantime, faking it and acting it are the best covers until true effectiveness and capable leadership is learned and developed through experience.

  3. Howie on August 22nd, 2007 8:06 pm

    True. Being in a position we are not prepared for is scary, especially if people are expecting a lot from us. This situation is common to new leaders and it would take a lot more than flexibility and self confidence for them to maintain their position.

  4. Howie on August 22nd, 2007 8:09 pm

    True. Being in a position we are not prepared for is scary, especially if people are expecting a lot from us. This situation is common to new leaders and it would take a lot more than flexibility and self confidence for them to maintain their position.

  5. Jeff on August 23rd, 2007 8:09 pm

    I found it particularly interesting the part about new leaders speaking less in meetings. I’ve noticed something similar in arguments. There have been many times I’ve seen arguments and debates won by the one who spoke least. Although not directly related to leadership, I think there is something to be said for knowing when to listen and not speak. Silence says something too. It also teaches control over oneself and self-mastery. I really like the point made here in that regard to new leaders and leadership.


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