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Becoming a leader

When I reflect upon moments of my first role as leader (some thirty years ago) I get the same sensation as I did when I was a youngster, watching a scary moment on TV and hiding behind the cushions; you know the outcome is not going to be a good one and you’re just waiting for that exact moment to pass so that things can start to get back to normal. Whilst the novice days of my leadership are a distant memory, they remain etched in my mind and have taught me valuable lessons, which I will always remember.

My role into leadership was through hard work, perseverance and a little bit about being in the right place at the right time. I was a top performer, not ‘the’ top performer but certainly within the top ten percent for my grade; so when an opportunity arose for a new manager I was approached and asked to apply. The logic was simple, If I was good at my job then I could show others how to be good at theirs right? Well maybe not. What was not so simple and what I didn’t necessarily understand at the time was that my technical knowledge alone would not make me the leader my team was worthy of. That took a little longer.

My first leadership-training course I still remember with delight. The trainer acknowledged all the emotion and frustration both my co-delegates and I had been experiencing and explained how the course would begin to address many of those. He made it clear that there would be much work to do by each of us throughout our journey and I was more than ready to take up the challenge. I thought, at last! I have clarity around what I should do.

Since that first training course I have learned many lessons about leading people and continue to do so on a daily basis. I have been given some great and some not so great advice and learned to graciously accept them both. I have worked with and continue to work with the most amazing and inspiring people, who I have to say, are far more talented than I. I have had the fortune to be mentored by people I admire and respect hugely and who always believed in me more than I believed in myself. Everything I have learned from these people has helped me become a better leader. My learning journey is far from over. I will continue to learn from my mistakes, laugh at myself and feel a little embarrassment at some of the things I do over the years to come. That’s all part of being human and much of what leadership is about. Here are some of my key learns from being a new leader, so that hopefully you won’t have to hide behind a cushion in years to come.

Know yourself

This may sound odd but how well do you know you? Self- awareness plays an important role in your journey as a leader. How you react under pressure, when challenged or when the news is not so good is equally as important as how you react on a good day. Find out what your strengths are, understand your weaknesses and seek development on these.

Be curious

Ask questions and listen.  Basic stuff, yet we often put ourselves under pressure by assuming our job title means that we should know everything.  Be curious about what your team do, what motivates them and how their job specifically links to your organisations objectives.

Be honest

Be open and honest with all your contacts.  Telling the truth should be the order of the day.  No one likes to feel that they have been lied to.  Admittedly there may be things that you have to keep confidential.  Handle this calmly and professionally explaining what you can within reason.

Demonstrate the behaviours you expect

If you are constantly late for meetings with your team you should never be surprised if they are too. As leaders we are a reflection of our teams performance, so when you don’t get what you expect from them, take a hard look at yourself and bar all your excuses before you point the finger.

Be authentic

This is about being the real you.  We can often easily tell when someone is putting on an act, so allowing the real you to be present showcases who you are.  This is not an excuse to allow the warts and all you to be present.  Work on strategies to deal with situations you find difficult as you increase your self-awareness.

Treat your team fairly and equally

Make sure that every team member is your favorite.  Even if this is not the case, spend equal amounts of time with everyone.

Communicate

Make time to get to know your team, manager, their manager, peers, business contacts and your customers. Remember their names; make notes if your memory isn’t great.  Remember, ‘you cannot not communicate’, so think about what a lack of time spent with your team might mean to them.  Consider what your body language says about you and seek feedback from anyone who is kind enough to offer it.

Get a mentor or a coach

Having someone around who can give you the inside story, link you to people who can help and challenge your thinking is worth it’s weight in gold. If it is available in your work place grab it. Similarly having a coach who can help you question and understand your behaviours and development works brilliantly.  If you can have both, then do.

Show some passion

Be passionate about the things you and your team do. Be positive about the communications you deliver. Do this with feeling and passion, own the messages you deliver to your team.

Have fun

There is a lot to learn in your early months of being a new leader.  Enjoy yourself along the way and involve your team in the fun too.  Demonstrate your sense of humor.

Be present

Spend as much time with your team as possible and then some more. Many leaders manage their team from behind a desk. If you have the option to be with them in person, do it. Get off your seat and speak to them rather than send an email if you can. It’s more human and its burns off more calories too.

Be empathetic

Demonstrate that you understand the situations of others.  Appreciating others and their situation doesn’t mean that you have to agree with them but putting yourself in someone else’s shoes helps you understand what they may be experiencing.

Communicate your vision and give context

Explain what you have in mind for you team. Story-tell and make it compelling. Always give the context first. Explain why the vision is important, how it benefits your team/business and how it links to the objectives of your team and your organisations.

Be kind to yourself

Remember that you are human and we make mistakes from time to time. Admit to your mistakes, learn from them but don’t dwell on them – you can never change what has already happened.

Catch your team doing the right things

Look out for what is good in each and every member of your team. Help them to develop by increasing their confidence and creating opportunities for them. Celebrate the things that they do well. Forgive mistakes and learn from them.

Develop yourself

If you have got this far then you have already demonstrated that you have a thirst for development. Don’t stop!

Over the years I have spoken to many leaders in a variety of organisations. Those who are self-aware often recognise their skills gaps and relish in the opportunity to develop themselves. Those who work for larger companies often attend development courses for new leaders so that they can appreciate and understand the rudiments of being a leader in their particular sector and business. There are still many people who, like I was initially, are learning how to be a leader from their mistakes. This is a slow and costly way of gaining experience and carries many risks for your team, your customers, your organisation and yourself.

Why not continue your development by:

  • Speaking to other leaders
  • Find a mentor
  • Grab yourself a coach
  • Watch on line videos
  • Search the web
  • Read leadership blogs
  • Find a book, eBook
  • Attend a formal training course
  • Undertake a recognised certificated development course.

Whichever route you take in furthering your development, I hope that you take your next step soon.  Maybe even today.

If you are looking for a professional leadership qualification, DKB Training is a recognised centre for the Institute of Leadership and Development and offer a variety of recognised qualifications for new and experienced leaders.

ILM Level III Leadership and Management.  New Leaders (  LINK  )

ILM Level V Leadership and Management.  Experienced Leaders (  LINK  )

Institute of leadership and management web page.  https://www.i-l-m.com

Good luck in your continued development and thank you for reading.