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The Reluctant Leader

I never aspired to be a leader. Being responsible and accountable for guiding and directing people based on ideas I turn into courses, programs, and coaching? Too scary. What if I make a mistake? What if my solutions for this collection of problems doesn’t work for other people? What if people aren’t interested in what I offer enough to let me lead them to-and-through a solution?

Here’s the reality every entrepreneur and expert needs to embrace: they are leaders whether they choose to think of themselves as one or not. Anyone whose platform includes the words, “Let me show you how,” or “Let me guide you, or “teach you,” or “explain to you,” is a leader. Anyone who’s sharing their expertise with one or more people is a leader. If you’re sharing your knowledge, methodologies, strategies, etc., to help someone get from point A to point B, congratulations, you’re a leader.

One of the biggest reasons I’ve shied away from thinking about myself as a leader is because of accountability. Not with my own accountability for choices, decisions, and agreements I’ve made with myself though. I’m good there. It’s holding other people accountable for the choices, decisions, and agreements they’ve made when they say, “Yes. I want to work with you.”

And I get that some people really enjoy being held accountable. But, for many of the people we could genuinely help, being held accountable by someone else to do the work of changing some aspect of their life—even when they’ve totally agreed to doing the work—is a big problem. If it wasn’t, everyone would be at a healthy weight and love their job.

As leaders, can we lead without holding people accountable? Of course. It starts with understanding the difference between someone saying “Yes” to working with us (because we’re so awesome), and agreeing to do the work they’re going to be asked to do. They aren’t the same thing.

Obviously, people believe they’ll do the work when they click the “buy now” button. They have the best intentions too. The challenge is that before they start, they’re excited, inspired, and encouraged. All good, but all that’s going to wear off and then what happens? The odds of them completing what they just bought drop dramatically. Holding them accountable by reminding them that they agreed to do the work will work for some, but the rest are more likely to feel:

  • Like a failure, procrastinator, and possibly a quitter.

  • Unmotivated, discouraged… maybe even overwhelmed.

  • Like there must be something wrong with them because the work is easy enough.

  • Alone… even when they’re part of a group.

Accountability, even when it’s offered kindly and gently, just doesn’t work for everyone. And yet, when it comes to the people we want to help solve their problems and achieve their goals, it’s not like we can differentiate between them and the people willing to be held accountable before they sign up. So, if we want to avoid a statistic like this….

51% were dissatisfied with the quality of the instructor or coach, feeling they didn't receive adequate support or guidance. Thinkific

….It's up to us to increase the odds of someone coming to us, their “fearless leader,” before they start falling behind and decide it’s easier to quit than to be held accountable for what they didn’t do. One way to tackle this statistic is to be proactive. Here are two questions to consider.

Do your clients have enough reasons to trust your expertise? It seems like they trust it if they’re buying what you’re offering. But the statistics for people experiencing buyer’s remorse after buying online courses, programs, and coaching, expose a different reality.

  • 42% regret purchasing online courses, programs, or coaching sessions. MindEdge

  • 44% feel they were misled by exaggerated claims or testimonials. Course Compare

  • 65% feel the value they received from online courses or coaching didn’t meet their expectations. CourseMinded

This is what all genuine authentic leaders are up against—especially that second statistic. Claims and testimonials can only do so much… because people do make them up. I know this because I’ve visited many people’s websites and social media looking for evidence of authenticity. Sometimes I find it. Sometimes I don’t. This doesn’t mean your testimonials and claims aren’t legit. It just means that while they have their place, people need more.

They need evidence of your expertise, which means not holding back with content because you’re concerned that if you give away too much of it, people won’t need to “pay” you for your help. Shift that perspective a bit and it reveals a different struggle. It’s the concern that we only have so much to offer, and once we’ve shared it, that’s it. We’re done. We don’t have anything else to offer and people don’t need our help anymore.

Interestingly enough, you can literally tell someone exactly what to do to solve their problem, and they’ll still come to you for help figuring out how to apply what they’ve learned to solving their specific situation.

Don’t misunderstand. This definitely isn’t a suggestion to give everything away. It’s just pointing out that sharing some of your proprietary content with potential and current clients is a show of confidence people appreciate.

Your content is evidence of both your expertise and your commitment to helping them deal with their situation too. And when that content has them thinking, saying, doing, or visualizing themselves closer to achieving their goal? They’ll start trusting you as someone who can lead them to and through the solution for their specific problem… and be more invested in doing the work because they’ve already experienced some of the change they desire.

Do your clients – and potential clients – believe you’re approachable? Some leadership models support the idea that as long as you make sure your clients know you’re available to help them, you’re good.

After that, if someone needs help, it’s up to them to reach out to you. On the other hand,

72% of online course and coaching program buyers feel disconnected from the material or instructor. Learning House

I definitely know what this feels like. I’ve bought online courses and programs and been soooo excited to get started. Everything rocked in the beginning too, but then something didn’t click. I’d feel like I must have missed something, or wonder why something wasn’t making sense to me.

Sometimes I reached out, but as you likely know from your own experience, not all leaders are approachable. Some have gate keepers. Some make us feel like we should be grateful they’re taking time to speak to us. This is where the whole idea of “special snowflakes” originated. It referred to clients who kept asking for help. It was a mentality that basically gave leaders permission to overlook the fact that there might be something wrong with their course, program, coaching, etc., in favor of deciding the client was the one with the problem.

The truth is that everyone wants to feel or think they’re a “special snowflake.” And you know what? They are. We are. Every one of us is. We’re all unique, including every person who says “Yes” to working with us.

The challenge is that when someone has a problem, the thought of it has them feeling dumb or stupid for not being able to follow the content, and they’re too embarrassed to admit they need help. They don’t want other people to know about it either, so they hesitate to reach out or speak up on social media. Unfortunately, we inherit this kind of past negative experience when our client’s say “Yes” to working with us.

One solution is making sure your clients know they can reach out to you by reaching out to them first. As a group, maybe have office hours. But you can reach out to people individually via group emails too. Send them questions, surveys, etc. Ask them how they’re doing. Ask them if they have questions. Let them know you care about how they’re progressing. Email is great because it’s easier for clients to share their thoughts or ask questions privately versus publicly on a social media platform.

If they respond that everything’s great, yahoo! That’s amazing feedback. If they respond with questions or need help, that’s the gold. That’s the information you can use to make what you’re offering even better.

There are a lot of ideas out there about the qualities of a great leader. In everyday life though, a great leader is a person who helps someone successfully journey from where they are, to where they want to be, without having to enforce accountability to get them there (unless that’s a legit part of what someone signed up for).

Trust your solution. You know it inside out, and you know it’s going to help change people’s lives for the better. Your solution will be unique, because you’re unique. Trust and focus on the quality of your courses, programs, and coaching practice around that solution, and accountability won’t be an issue.

Trust and believe in yourself and your ability to deliver your solution. Do that, and it will be even easier for your clients to trust you to successfully lead them… whether the journey you’re leading them on is from point A to point B, point A to point Z, or point A to somewhere in between.


Valerie Utton - Website Content Strategist, Editor, Self-Publishing Coach
Valerie Utton - Website Content Strategist, Editor, Self-Publishing Coach

Meet the expert:

Valerie has been helping entrepreneurs and experts translate their brilliance into

written content for over 13 years. Now she’s focusing on helping them strategically show up on their websites so more of their potentially ideal clients will be inspired to say, “Yes!” I want to work with you.”

Dive deeper into her wealth of knowledge:



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