Sometimes (like when I’ve had to do another round of performance reviews and have to listen to the same complaints and witness the same resistance to change or self-improvement year after year) I feel like a complete failure when it comes to leadership. At those times, it helps me to remind myself what I’ve learned about leadership. It usually turns out I know more than I thought I knew.
1. Most of the well-meaning leadership books out there are crap. Okay, they’re not TOTALLY crap (some are actually pretty good), but they can lead you down a dark and narrow passageway that makes you feel like you can’t possibly succeed if you don’t do x,y, and z from one book and a,b, and c from another. Read too many of them and at some point you will throw up your hands and say “I really SUCK at this leadership thing!”
2. You have to learn to trust your heart, not the leadership books. More than anything, remember to be authentic. Show them the real you. People will follow an authentic leader, not the one who’s mastered the art of imitating what’s in the books.
3. If you’re a person who needs a lot of affirmation in order to succeed, don’t get into leadership. Hardly anybody remembers that leaders need affirmation. The people you lead will look to you for affirmation, but rarely, if ever, will they affirm your work.
4. Leadership can be really, really hard. And seriously draining. It can suck the life right out of you if you’re not careful. Do not enter the profession lightly. Be prepared to give a big chunk of your soul to the work. If you’re not prepared for that, find something else to do.
5. Every leader needs to find ways of ensuring they can stay healthy when there are way too many pressures and expectations and the people you lead are acting like normal flawed human beings and they don’t recognize how much they ask of you. Take up yoga, write in a journal, find a career coach or counselor, join a mentoring group, or find a really good friend who’s also a leader who knows what you’re going through.
6. Carve pumpkins sometimes. Remember to have fun with your team. One of my best leadership moments was the time the team I used to lead got together to carve pumpkins for the Halloween pumpkin-carving contest. Not only did we win, but our team really gelled over pumpkins and wine.
7. Be honest – even if that sometimes means hurting people. This is especially tough when you’re doing annual performance reviews, but staff need to hear things like “you have not been extending enough grace to other members of the team” now and then or they’ll NEVER get it.
8. Be vulnerable. Let your team catch a glimpse of the fears and insecurities you’ve been hiding. They don’t have to think you’re perfect all the time. This can be really, REALLY scary, but it can also help the team connect on a deeper level than they have before.
9. Find good people. If you don’t have supportive people on the team (who have the team’s best interest at heart), find a way to get rid of them. And if you have to keep saying the same things over and over again at every performance review, there’s a good chance it’s NOT sinking in and the person should probably move on.
10. Communicate. And then communicate some more. And when you’re convinced you’ve been open and transparent enough, trust your gut and don’t take the complaints seriously. Because the thing is – even when you think you’ve done a great job of consulting everyone on the team on a major decision, someone will invariably complain that they didn’t know what was going on. Get used to it and suck it up. You’ll never satisfy everyone.