In the last few years, my career has taken me into the world of management. I have to admit that when I began my first management role, I thought that I would be much better at it than I was.
Ever since I was very young, I have been referred to as bossy. I always liked to be the one leading the charge, for my ideas to be heard, and to tell other people what I think that they should do (especially my younger brother).
I learned very quickly that these qualities might make someone ‘management material’ but they do not necessarily a good leader. I also found out that if I wanted my team to do more than the bare minimum asked of them, I had to not only be their manager, but I had to be their leader.
Two different things
Leadership and management are two very different things. A manager can get a group of people to do what they want them to do, but a leader can make them enjoy doing it.
‘To be a great leader of anyone or anything, you have to dig deep, lead with courage and practice empathy. You have to be secure enough in yourself that you are able to lead while considering the ideas and feelings of others’ -entrepreneur.com
Warren Bennis said, “leadership is the capacity to translate a vision into reality”. Painting a plan or an idea into real life is so much more difficult than it would seem to be when first getting started.
When leading a team, everyone on that team needs to be able to see the end goal as clearly as their leader does. It takes a skilled communicator to articulate what the goal is as well as the steps necessary to get there.
As an effective leader, they have to get their team to believe in the culture that they are creating. If the team does not believe in what it is they are working towards they will very quickly lose interest in working hard for the goal.
I like to remind my team that all of the ‘little’ things that they do each day might seem to mean nothing on their own, but that together, all of that work leads to our big victory. I also often talk about why what we are doing matters.
Defining ‘the why’ in any organization can help to make the vision clearer to the team and keep them inspired to pursue the goal when motivation gets low.
One of the most draining tasks a person can do is attempt to keep a group of people motivated and excited to work. Especially when the goal is an ongoing one without a clear endpoint.
For me, this means that I often have to do a mental reset and remind myself of what it is that we are currently working towards. I also have to remind myself that reaching our objective is possible, because that is so easy to forget when I am in the middle of my day-to-day tasks.
Maintaining a positive attitude and high energy and excitement even when things are tough is not an easy task. Sometimes it requires taking some time away to recharge and refocus. Letting ourselves run on a low tank for too long will lead to more mistakes, emotional reactions, and a recognizable fakeness to our motivational encouragements.
Taking time off is not easy for me to do, but I know that in order to be my best self, I have to take care of my own mental state before I can try to take care of anyone else’s.
People and personalities
When leading a group of people in any scenario, one of the biggest challenges is managing multiple personalities and feelings in the same group.
No two people whom we are leading will react the same way to pressure, discipline, or accomplishments. As leaders, we have to know each of those personalities well enough to anticipate their feelings and help them through each situation.
Some of those we lead need more nurturing and patience, while others need strict guidelines and due dates. Getting all of the different personalities to work together is also a challenge.
Using personality tests like Myers Briggs or DISC Behavior Inventory can help make the differences, compatibilities, and strengths of each of your mentees clear. It can also aide us in developing their abilities to their fullest potential.
Taking these tests as leaders can also help us to learn our biggest weaknesses in leadership and do our best to combat them.
Learning how people think and how they react to circumstances gives us the ability to empathize with them when they are struggling instead of remaining a distant, uncaring party in their struggles.
My sense of self
One of the things that I struggled with the most while first developing my leadership skills was maintaining my sense of self.
I felt like I had to crawl out of my skin and become a robot of a manager in order to have difficult conversations with my staff.
I did not know how to deal with discipline or conflict resolution in my own way, so the conversations felt forced and awkward.
Being open and honest with those who we are leading at all times might seem like it would damage the power that we need have in order to lead successfully, but it actually makes us much more effective at cultivating a healthy team environment.
While we do want to use our words wisely in order to maintain the environment that we seek to cultivate, we still need to be transparent.
Leadership is not manipulation
Tricking people into following us is not leadership, it is manipulation.
Most people can sense when the truth is being withheld from them, and it can begin to breed distrust and defensiveness within a group. This is especially true when we are attempting to cover up a mistake that we made in an attempt to maintain our image.
Owning our mistakes and apologizing for them gives us the freedom to come off a pedestal and be comfortable with the individuals that we are working with. I still have work to do, but I have learned over time how to be respected as a leader, but still be myself.
My journey as a leader is still in its infancy. I still have so much to learn but knowing that is a huge part of being successful because I will always be trying to improve.
For as long as I chose to accept leadership roles, I will also choose to seek out as much guidance and knowledge that I can find. I will fight temptations to take the easy way out of situations, and I will own up to my mistakes.
The world needs more leaders who’s first priority is leaving those they lead better off than they found them, and I want to be exactly that type of leader.