It feels a little egotistical advising others on leadership when there are days when I wonder how I ever found myself in a managerial role to begin with. As a child, I barely spoke to anyone other than my parents and was practically glued to their hip when in public.
As for asserting myself, asking for directions or even striking up a conversation with someone, well... it all seemed a little too intimidating. Years later, after many awkward teenage years, a four-year degree and over a decade of experience in a very mentally and emotionally taxing industry, I accidentally found myself in a leadership role within a workplace that happened to be growing rapidly. I realised that offering something other than the ‘born leader’ story could inspire and gently motivate a growing team for the better. Was it possible that empathy, intuition and compassion could be part of a successful and inspirational leader’s disposition?
At this point in my career, it’s fair to say that I may have learnt a thing or two about leadership. But that’s only after an abundance of extra hours, a plethora of stuff-ups, consistent reflection and exposure to some of the most unusual human temperaments.
Here are six lessons I’ve learnt about leadership:
Lesson One: Don’t be a dick.
Pretty simple, right? Unfortunately, it’s not. They (dickheads, just to clarify) still exist in all walks of life, so I’m particularly passionate about advocating against any dick-like behaviour. It’s vital that people respect you because you work hard, you know your shit and you’re a decent human overall.
In my experience, I don’t respond well to ‘leaders’ that walk around a workspace with a clipboard, a nice, clean suit and an oversized ego telling me how to do things without asking for my input or building a relationship with me first.
Lesson Two: Value the individual.
Whether you’re building your team from scratch or you have been employed to guide an established workplace, every individual has something to offer.
It can be easy in an over-paced and high-pressure environment to focus on negatives, so getting to know your employees, professionally and personally, is crucial. This lets you pick up their interests and passions.
This may seem insignificant to the workplace, but this respectful rapport can completely transform the culture and efficiency of your team.
Lesson Three: Challenge and support.
A leader should inspire and educate their team. This responsibility will involve questioning and challenging particular practices that may be outdated or out of line with the current company values. This kind of feedback isn’t always well-received.
That’s why I created the following action list:
— Ask the employee for their input: what is the reason for this approach, and how is it currently working for the business? (If the answer is, ‘Because we’ve always done it this way’, see the next point.)
— Help them see the value in a more effective practice that’s based on current research and possibly your experience in the industry. Always lead by example.
— Offer them support. This could be mentoring, further training and/or frequent meetings to follow up on the change. Trialling a new approach, whether you’re new to the industry or have been practicing the same habits for years, can be unsettling for the best of us.
Lesson Four: Assert, don’t avoid.
If you’re a power tripper, you’ll probably gain a sick sense of satisfaction screaming at a colleague’s error. This is a great way to lose their respect and terrify them into meeting deadlines with anxiety, which leads to poor content and a tension-filled work environment.
If you’re a people pleaser and want to live in a world filled with rainbows, butterflies and consistently pleasant human interactions (me!), then you’ll know that confrontation sucks.
However, the more you avoid difficult conversations, the sooner a trivial issue will erupt into fireworks because it wasn’t addressed when it should’ve been. Outlining the issue in a respectful, clear and private manner is a lot more likely to guide your colleague’s performance in a more positive direction. Never make it personal.
Ensure you revisit the business philosophies, goals and values before moving forward. You’ll probably get a little sweaty and need a power nap afterwards, but at least you can do it with your integrity intact.
Lesson Five: Set boundaries.
A leader is essentially responsible for everything. Maybe you feel you need to be accessible for ‘work emergencies’ whilst enjoying a cup of tea in your pyjamas at 4pm on a Saturday afternoon. It may also involve copping a few screams in the face from a client when something has been majorly stuffed up (see Lesson Six). Just because you might be available, it doesn’t mean that you become a robot without a life, married to your job and on call 24/7.
Whether you drive into the mountains for an hour or two, run a bubble bath if that’s your jam or turn your phone off while you’re eating dinner, taking some small steps to protect your own wellbeing can reduce the risk of burnout and lead to increased productivity within your work hours.
Making your team aware of your role’s boundaries can ensure you gain a little of your sanity back after a difficult working week.
Lesson Six: Back your team.
I have come close to walking out of cafés, restaurants or shops after hearing a staff member put down another and, unfortunately, I see it happen a lot. On the flipside, I’ll often return to cafés where the team are respectful to each other when they think no one is watching, and genuinely look as if they enjoy being together.
Throwing anyone under the bus, particularly when you’re leading a team, makes your clients feel uncomfortable and your service look unprofessional. Every human makes mistakes, so stand with your tribe and let them know you’ve got their back.
One day you might need them to do the same for you.
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