My mom had tremendous musical talent and performed classical music with her sister on dual pianos. She and her sister spent hours learning and honing the skills and nuances of playing professionally, which occupied most of her time to the exclusion of pursuing other interests.

So, she wanted me, her beloved and only daughter, to learn all the things denied to her. As a young child, I was thrown into everything — except music – regardless of any talent I might have shown.

I was shuffled off to ballet classes until I was told I would eventually tower over my dance partners on pointe. (It was de rigueur to be shorter in stature.) From there, we went to ice-skating, with the same lack of success. I did not have a natural talent for either and really wasn’t interested enough to try to become good at them.

Eventually, I got to swimming. At last, something I had a talent for! For me, there was nothing like that powerful feeling of cutting through the water with perfect arm strokes, of kicking mightily and streaking down the swim lane. I had a gift for stroke swimming. Not only could I do it, but I could also teach it. I loved being in the water all day and into the night, so it wasn’t long before my talent was melding with my skill-building.

The summer before my twelfth birthday I was in heaven. I knew the strokes; I was teaching basic classes; I was performing in synchronized swimming. In fact, my summer swim coach was at a loss as to what to do with me next. The only class I hadn’t taken was senior lifesaving. I was way too young and way too small (despite my height) to get the designation. Because you had to be significantly closer to sixteen than I was to take the class and get certified, I wouldn’t be able to call myself a lifeguard afterward, but my coach allowed me to take the class anyway.

To be honest, he never expected me to finish because of my size and age. The guys in the class (and it was all guys) were lean, muscular, tall, and almost double my weight. Of course, we would practice rescue on each other, and I would have to get them out of the pool by myself. Despite all that, the guys always surprised me with encouragement and praise when I was able to perform the skills and as I grew in competence. I was completely committed to excelling at this thing I truly loved.

When it came to the final exam, I had to rescue my coach from drowning and let me tell you, all of that adult muscle makes one heck of a dead weight. I got him to the side of the pool and draped his arms over the side. As I was getting out of the pool to haul him up, he began to slip off the side – the rat! I was so exhausted; I knew I didn’t have the strength to go down and get him again. So, I made do. I latched onto his shoulder with my nails and pulled. And I got him up, out of the pool, and on the deck.

The guys were shocked – aghast even: I had dug deep into the coach’s shoulder and he was bleeding profusely. Everyone stood still, holding their breath, waiting for a yell from the coach. He sat up, looked at his battle wounds, and laughed! He slapped me on the back and told me I’d done what it took to be a great lifeguard.

Because I had a talent for swimming and learned the skills necessary, I was tremendously successful. I was determined in my intention to achieve the desired result.

Oh, and I did get my lifeguard designation as soon as I turned sixteen.

Leadership Trifecta: Talent + Interest + Skill Development

There is a talent for leadership, that certain something which urges someone to take on leadership roles and want to learn everything it will take to excel. There are people who don’t have the talent and don’t question it. Just like ballet for me. I didn’t have the talent and I was not interested in doing everything it would take to become a ballerina.

However, if you are questioning your leadership ability, then you probably have the talent and “urge.”  Take some moments to think about this, asking yourself:

What are some aspects of leadership that I enjoy, admire, and feel that I might have? What are my talents? Some may be more evident than others, and often so natural that they’re right in front of you (like my height for swimming), so go deep. For me as a swimmer, I discovered that I loved the beauty and freedom of being in the water, always felt motivated to challenge myself and enjoyed competition.

The next step is to develop the skills and qualities of effective leadership – melding your talent, interest, and skills. Start by testing the waters – read about leadership, get some leadership coaching, continue to explore your strengths, take a new leadership role in something that has meaning for you. As I did as a child (albeit unwittingly and sometimes unwillingly!), try out some things to see what sticks, what really resonates with you about leading and influencing. Leverage the qualities and strengths you have, and challenge yourself to learn new ones.

I find that the beautiful outcome of the pursuit to become an exceptional leader is that these qualities and skills will help to make you a more exceptional WOMAN!

~ Selected from my bestselling book No One Stood Up When I Entered The Room: One Woman’s Journey from Command to True Leadership.

Linda Patten is a Leadership Trainer for women entrepreneurs and change-makers. Her vision for every woman is to become the natural leader she is meant to be, through teaching an empowering mindset, masculine AND feminine leadership skills, and how to activate a vision into a full-bodied business or social change movement.

For opportunities to awaken and empower the leader within you, please visit Dare2LeadwithLinda.