There are numerous 'Top 5' lists out there on how to be an effective leader. Top tips on how to be an emotionally connected, high EQ, conscious, engaged, motivated leader. And the tips make a lot of sense and apply to a lot of scenarios. But I think my biggest learning from being a leader come from the mistakes I've made in my leadership life and the realization I had to get better after the fact. It's great to read these lists and apply them and good for you if you've never been burned before (being proactive helps!) But if you're like me and the greatest lessons I've learned come from the many mistakes I've made, this list might resonate for you.
Slow is fast and fast is slow - Stephen R Covey, on how to build relationships
When I became a leader at a software organization, I had just come off of being on medical leave (cancer survivor) and was promoted during that time. Not only would I be returning to work after 2 major surgeries after 5 months off, I'd also be walking into a new environment taking over an established team. I was once their peer only to leave and return to become promoted to be their new boss. My anxiety was high and I had many many questions on my my mind:
When I returned I had all these expectations that they would be happy to see me again and happy that I was their leader. But I was wrong. My anxieties and fears were also theirs:
Having difficult conversations - feedback is not just important, it's your responsibility
This was a tough one I had to learn. I was about to have a difficult conversation with a direct report and I had anxiety about it for days. I thought it wasn't going to go well and planned for it as much as I could. And when it happened, to my surprise they thanked me for it. They said they were appreciative that they raised this difficult topic to them so that they could be aware of it and make an effort to change. People inherently want to do good. And they can't if someone isn't there to point out their blind spots.
Your results aren't your responsibility - your people are
This is a big mindset change as a new leader. All too often (especially in sales), results are the # 1 thing that matters. But as a leader, you intentionally move from an individual contributor role to a leader of people. Your people are responsible for the results now, you are responsible to set them up for success, provide guidance and feedback and coach them towards success. That's it.
You're on stage as leader - always - it's not just what you do when people are looking that is important, it's how you handle yourself when no ones looking that defines you as a person
It's easy standing on your values when people are watching. It's a sign of courage to do so when things aren't ideal and when no one's watching.
You're not in the business of being liked, you're in the business of being a leader
As a self confessed people pleaser, this was also a hard lesson to learn. This all comes down to the simple idea that you are not responsible for other people's happiness. You are their leader and they will need you in more ways than to keep them 'happy'.
Be open and transparent when you can be, and when you can't, tell them so
Brene Brown's 'vulnerability armour' reminds me that we need to be vulnerable as a leader. Communicate and be open and when things aren't going so well, let your people know. We are the same at the end of the day, all human.
Being a leader (with a title or not) is tough. But for those that are acting on their calling, it can be the most rewarding experience of their lives, as long as we continue to learn along the way.