When we were in our 20s, my husband and I said that one day we would write a book on ‘best and worst bosses’ - a reflection of our experience watching our leaders and those around us – what we have loved and what we would never do.
Fast forward ten or so years and we are well and truly in positions of leadership and whilst we didn’t write that book, we did take mental notes and put them into practice as we developed and continue to develop our own leadership style.
My passion point and one that I can talk about for hours is my vision to create a better workforce for the future. One that is truly collaborative, self-motivated and self-aware. Oh and of course, with the skills to match.
I think we somewhat in flux in the professional world. There are some great leaders, but on the most part, leaders are pretty average. They have spent the time honing their technical skills and put into a leadership role without the right skills to lead. Why is this and what can you be doing now as you grow and develop?
I have pulled together a guide to leadership, along with feedback from my trusted network. Take these points as your mantra as you progress in your career and life.
First of all you need to be clear on what your are? Spend the time really thinking about this (don’t force it – it will come to you when you are in a place when you least expect it. I find this comes when I am exercising- happy hormones, fresh air and reflection or daydreaming time). Write them down – either mentally or somewhere where you can see them. And STICK TO THEM!
If you are ever in a place where your values are compromised, take yourself out of the situation (go for a walk, run, yoga - something that promotes positive energy), and reflect. If the situation is causing you to deviate from your values, listen to your gut, trust it, and say NO. When you compromise on what is important to you, your reputation and integrity – whether you realise or not at the time, is also compromised.
Building and nurturing a network is absolutely key. This is an art form and needs to come from a place with heart. Spend the time to really get to know someone and add value to his or her life without expecting immediate return. It will catch you up in some other way down the track. Have you had someone who has helped you early in your career (or life for that matter)? Do you find you still use their advice today? Be sure to pay this forward by helping someone in your network.
It doesn’t matter what their role is in the company, treat everyone with the respect and dignity that they deserve. I agree wholeheartedly with Richard Branson when he said, “By treating all people as you would wish to be treated and having respect for everyone, you will have a far happier and more productive life.” Treat the cleaner with the same respect that you would the Managing Director.
Anyone can learn technical skills, soft skills are ingrained. Emotional intelligence is as important; a lack of tends to be the main area that lets a number of leaders down. One of these soft skills (and I encourage you to read further on soft skills) is empathy. The understanding that people are human beings. In the busyness of the week with constant deadlines and commercial pressures, we need to take time to stop, check in on our team, and ensure that we are approachable.
I cannot stress the need for us all (not just leaders), to stop the ‘I am so busy’ competition and take a moment to talk to people about them, to really think about the email that you are rushing to hit send on.
It is when we don’t take the time to listen to ourselves and others, our empathy radar goes out the window. Many an issue can be avoided when we slow down and connect. Your colleagues should see you as a person who is interested in others and approachable. The connectedness you create will also make for better performance, as you understand what makes your colleagues tick and help to bring out the best in them.
Being a good leader is hard. I often think at times you need to have a psychology degree as the people management and different dynamics can be one of the most difficult parts of the role. There are going to be times when your team and your colleagues do not see eye to eye with your approach. There may be times when it may feel that an owner or stakeholder is pushing your buttons. Other times, team members will be criticising your work or your behaviour. It is important to understand through all of this, to not make it personal. Approach each encounter professionally and if you feel you are about to crack, walk away, get those happy hormones back into your system and reset.
All of the above is well and good if you are not consistent. It’s ok to have bad days (but be sure to call it out, rather than bury it, which will be misconstrued as unapproachable and rude). If you are not consistent in your approach to work, deliverables and soft skills, than it will be very hard for your colleagues to respect you and take your feedback seriously. If you fall off the ‘consistency wagon’, stop and recognise it to yourself, colleagues and team and recalibrate. This demonstrates to others that you are self aware of your flaws (we all have them), and brings you back on the path forward.