Article | Harvard Business Review | January – February 2011

Stop Holding Yourself Back

by Anne Morriss, Robin J. Ely and Frances X. Frei

Abstract

After working with hundreds of leaders in a wide variety of organizations and in countries all over the globe, the authors found one very clear pattern: when it comes to meeting their leadership potential, many people unintentionally get in their own way. Five barriers in particular tend to keep promising managers from becoming exceptional leaders: people overemphasize personal goals, protect their public image, turn their competitors into two-dimensional enemies, go it alone instead of soliciting support and advice, and wait for permission to lead. Troy, a customer service manager, endangered his job and his company's reputation by focusing on protecting his position, not helping his team; when a trusted friend advised him to change his behavior, the results were striking. Anita's insistence on sticking to the tough persona she'd created for herself caused her to ignore the more intuitive part of the leadership equation, with disastrous results—until she let go of the need to appear invulnerable and reached out to another manager. Jon, a personal trainer who had virtually no experience with either youth development programs or urban life, opened a highly successful gym for inner-city kids at risk; he refused to be daunted by his lack of expertise and decided to simply "go for it." As these and other examples from the authors' research demonstrate, being a leader means making an active decision to lead. Only then will the workforce-and society-benefit from the enormous amount of talent currently sitting on the bench.

Keywords: Transformation; Decision Choices and Conditions; Leadership; Personal Development and Career; Personal Characteristics;

Citation:

Morriss, Anne, Robin J. Ely, and Frances X. Frei. "Stop Holding Yourself Back." Harvard Business Review 89, nos. 1-2 (January–February 2011).