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7 Things I Wish I’d Known When I Was A First-Time Leader

7 Things I Wish I’d Known When I Was A First-Time Leader

“Leadership is hard to define and good leadership even harder. But if you can get people to follow you to the ends of the earth, you are a great leader.” – Indra Nooyi

Leadership is a tough thing to do and as a first time leader in my late 20’s I honestly had no idea about leadership, let alone know what it meant to be a leader. I was a Deputy Principal at an all girls secondary school with significant leadership responsibilities. I didn’t  even know there was a difference being a leader and a manager.

I don’t think I was an appalling leader and that people despised me (well some may have),but I was definitely not an effective leader. I didn’t motivate or encourage people. I essentially told people what to do.

My leadership style was based on my personality and teaching experience – in that I was able to control a crowd and could tell people what to do with confidence and control. The teaching staff and students did what I told them to do and that was how I measured how successful I was in my leadership role! Even as I write this I am squirming and feel very uncomfortable at my lack of insight and plain ignorance on leadership and what it took for me be a successful and effective leader.

“Leadership is an opportunity to serve. It is not a trumpet call to self-importance.” – J Donald Walters

To be completely truthful the quote from J. Donald Walters describes so perfectly what leadership really meant to me, not that I would have admitted it at the time.  To me, leadership was about feeding my ego and sense of self importance. There was no consideration by me as to whether I would make a good leader.  I took on the role because it made me feel important and I got paid more money! There I have said it!

I didn’t enjoy my time in the leadership role. I found it frustrating, time consuming, demanding and restrictive. I was not ready to be a leader and I had taken on the leadership role too soon. I only lasted a year as the Deputy Principal and it was a miserable year for me. I had gone from loving teaching to hating it. I was demotivated and desperately wanted to leave, which I eventually did at the end of the year.

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My experience as a Deputy Principal left me with very little confidence about my leadership abilities. In fact for a long time I avoided accepting positions with any leadership role or responsibilities because I didn’t believe I had great leadership potential.

Now with the benefit of hindsight I look back at my younger self and if I had known these seven things about leadership, it would have saved me a lot of grief. I would have been so better prepared, far more effective and much happier in my leadership role.

1. Leaders Are Courageous

“Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.” – Winston Churchill

Leaders are not afraid to face the messy moments and will face up to their mistakes. They are prepared to be vulnerable and they know they don’t have all the answers. They are agents of change and they are future-oriented thinkersdedicated to doing what ever it takes to get there.

Leaders are risk takers and they take risks from a place of strength – in that they are thorough in their preparation, are are willing to step out with confidence, understanding what is at stake. Leaders have the courage to make the tough decisions, to change direction and to deliver the bad news when people don’t want to hear it. Leaders also need courage to be innovative and creative.

2. Leaders Know Who They Are.

“Your first and foremost job as a leader is to take charge of your own energy and then help to orchestrate the energy of those around you.” – Peter F. Drucker

Leaders know their self worth, understand their own emotions and recognise the impact on self and others.  Leaders manage energy within themselves and in their relationships. Leaders know their blind spots and have the courage to look at themselves honestly.

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Leaders who know who they are, have a strong sense of personal leadership and it is this base of leadership that is the foundation from which great leaders operate. There has been a lot of academic research on leadership and many books have been published about these different types of leadership styles – transformational leadership, transactional leadership, situational leadership etc, however, leaders who have a strong sense of personal leadership lead from their own place of authenticity. They are Authentic Leaders.

“True leadership stems from individuality that is honestly and sometimes imperfectly expressed…. Leaders should strive for authenticity over perfection” – Sheryl Sandberg, “Lean In”

3. Leaders Know the Difference Between The Role Of A Leader & Manager

“Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things.” – Stephen Covey, “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People”

I have included this because I believe that if I had understood the difference in the role of being a leader and a manager I probably would not have been so confused and frustrated when I was telling people to do some tasks and also at the same time trying to encourage them to be motivated about taking on the task. A leaders job is to inspire, encourage and create value. A manager’s role is to get things done – to organise and control a group of people to get tasks completed in order to accomplish a goal. Inspiration and  influence separate leaders from managers, not power and control.

I believe that you can be both, a great leader and a great manager, just as long as you are clear about which role you are undertaking as stated in the quote below from Stephen Covey.

“Management is efficiency in climbing the ladder of success; leadership determines whether the ladder is leaning against the right wall” – Stephen R. Covey

4. Leaders Accept That They Always Learning

“Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other.” – John F. Kennedy

Leaders never stop learning. They are always growing and reaching to improve the way they lead. They take responsibility for their own failures and mistakes and will use these experiences to help them become even better leaders.

Leaders recognise that the more knowledge they have the more creative they can be. They know that the power of knowledge is one of the best ways to overcome what ever obstacles come their way. Great leaders are always striving to know more and will seek input and advise from the people they lead. They surround themselves with people who have the skills, knowledge and experiences that they don’t have and it is these people that great leaders call on for advice and guidance.

“To make a decision, all you need is authority. To make a good decision, you also need knowledge, experience, and insight.” – Denise Moreland

5. Leaders Know They Can Not Do It Alone.

“High sentiments always win in the end, The leaders who offer blood, toil, tears and sweat always get more out of their followers than those who offer safety and a good time. When it comes to the pinch, human beings are heroic.” – George Orwell

Leaders only become successful through the support of others. Leaders take people with them. To gain the respect, trust and loyalty of people, leaders connect with people and are great relationship builders. If you are leading a team and you want them to perform at their best, then you to have to perform at your best. Nobody likes a leader who doesn’t walk with their people.

A great leader looks to produce other leaders and sees the potential for leadership in others.

“A good leader inspires people to have confidence in the leader; a great leader inspires people to have confidence in themselves.” – Eleanor Roosevelt

6. Leaders Are Excellent Communicators

“Great communication depends on two simple skills—context, which attunes a leader to the same frequency as his or her audience, and delivery, which allows a leader to phrase messages in a language the audience can understand.” – John Maxwell

Leaders motivate and inspire people through good communication. Leaders also understand that communication is a two way process and they will always seek feedback and clarification from people to ensure that everyone understands what is being communicated and what the leader is asking of them. This two way process of communication also allows people to feel that they have been heard and their contribution is of value to the overall goal.

“Ninety percent of leadership is the ability to communicate something people want.” – Dianne Feinstein 

 7. Leaders Are Not Afraid of Commitment 

“People do not follow uncommitted leaders. Commitment can be displayed in a full range of matters to include the work hours you choose to maintain, how you work to improve your abilities, or what you do for your fellow workers at personal sacrifice.” – Stephen Gregg

Leaders understand that success is a process and that reaching the vision and achieving the goals doesn’t happen over night. It takes time and it involves a lot of work determination and commitment to keep going. If a leader is not committed to the vision then why would the rest of the team be? It is the leaders level of commitment that influences and impacts on a team’s motivation, determination and commitment. A leader who demonstrates commitment to the vision creates and builds trust within the team. The team are therefore more willing and more committed to go that extra mile, to become top performers and exceed expectations because they trust and are inspired by their leader.

A leader who is not afraid of commitment is also not afraid to change the course of direction, if it is not going to plan. They will be looking ahead and reading the signs and will be ready to map out another course of direction for the team to follow.

It seems a bit overwhelming when you read this list of seven key things that contribute to being a great leader. I know you are thinking can I really be a great leader? The answer is YES YOU CAN! As a first time leader you have the potential to be  a great leader as long as you are informed and know what it is that you need to do to be the “best leader you can be”.

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Take these seven leadership qualities to heart and use them as the foundation blocks from which you can launch yourself from being a First Time Leader to becoming A Great Leader.

“Leadership is not so much about technique and methods as it is about opening the heart. Leadership is about inspiration—of oneself and of others. Great leadership is about human experiences, not processes. Leadership is not a formula or a program, it is a human activity that comes from the heart and considers the hearts of others. It is an attitude, not a routine.” – Lance Secretan

More by this author

Kathryn Sandford

Career Resilience Coach passionate about supporting others to grow and thrive in a complex world.

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Published on January 16, 2019

How to Effectively Manage a Heavy Workload at Work

How to Effectively Manage a Heavy Workload at Work

We’re all busy, but sometimes we go through periods where the work piles up and it seems like it might never end.

You might have such a heavy workload that it feels too intimidating to even start.

You may have said yes to some or too many projects, and now you’re afraid you won’t be able to deliver.

That’s when you need to take a step back, take a deep breath, and start looking at what’s working and what’s not working.

Here’re 13 strategies you can use to get out from under your overwhelming workload:

1. Acknowledge You Can’t Do It All

Many of us have a tendency to think we can do more than we actually can. We take on more and more projects and responsibility and wear numerous hats.

We all have the opportunity to have and take on more work than we can reasonably expect to get done. Unfortunately, our workload is not static. Even now, while you are reading this article, I’m guessing that your inbox is filling up with fresh new tasks.

To make real, effective progress, you have to have both the courage and resourcefulness to say, “This is not working”. Acknowledge that you can’t do it all and look for better solutions.

At any given time in your life, there are likely many things that aren’t going according to plan. You have to be willing to be honest with yourself and those around you about what’s not working for you, both personally and professionally.

The more you exercise your ability to tell the truth about what’s working and what’s not working, the faster you’ll make progress.

2. Focus on Your Unique Strengths

Whether you’re an entrepreneur, a leader or working as part of a team, every individual has unique strengths they can bring to the table.

The challenge is that many people end up doing things that they’re simply not very good at.

In the pursuit of reaching your goals or delivering a project, people end up doing everything themselves or taking on things that don’t play to their unique strengths. This can result in frustration, overwhelm and overwork.

It can mean projects taking a lot longer to complete because of knowledge gaps, or simply not utilizing the unique strengths of other people you work with.

It is often not about how to complete this project more effectively but who can help deliver this project.

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So, what are your unique strengths that will ensure your workload is delivered more effectively? Here’re some questions to help you reflect:

  • Are you a great strategist?
  • Are you an effective planner?
  • Is Project Management your strength?
  • Is communication and bringing people together your strength?
  • Are you the ideas person?
  • Is Implementation your strength?

Think about how you can bring the biggest value to your work and the projects you undertake.

3. Use the Strengths of Your Team

One of the simplest ways to manage your workload effectively is to free up your time so you bring your highest level of energy, focus and strengths to each project.

Delegation or better teamwork is the solution.

Everyone has unique strengths. It’s essential to think teamwork rather than working in isolation to ensure projects can be completed effectively. Besides, every time you give away a task or project that doesn’t play to your unique strengths, you open up an opportunity to do something you’re more talented at. This will empower both yourself and those around you.

Rather than taking on all the responsibilities yourself, look at who you can work with to deliver the best results possible.

4. Take Time for Planning

“Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe”. – Abraham Lincoln

One hour of effective planning could save hours of time. Rather than just rushing in and getting started on projects, take the time to map everything in.

You can take the time to think about:

  • What’s the purpose of the project?
  • How Important is it?
  • When does it need to be delivered by?
  • What is the best result and worst result for this project?
  • What are the KPIs?
  • What does the project plan and key milestones look like?
  • Who is working on this project?
  • What is everyone’s responsibilities?
  • What tolerances can I add in?
  • What are the review stages?
  • What are the challenges we may face and the solutions for these challenges?

Having absolute clarity on the project, the project deliverables and the result you want can save a lot of time. It also gets you clear on the priorities and timelines, so you can block out the required amount of time to focus and concentrate.

5. Focus on Priorities

Not everything is a priority, although it can often feel, in the moment, that it is.

Whatever you’re working on, there is always the Most Urgent, Important or Most Valuable projects or tasks.

One tool you can use to maximize your productivity and focus on your biggest priorities is to use the Eisenhower Matrix. This strategic tool for taking action on the things that matter most is simple. You separate your actions based on four possibilities:

  1. Urgent and important (tasks you will do immediately).
  2. Important, but not urgent (tasks you will schedule to do later).
  3. Urgent, but not important (tasks you will delegate to someone else).
  4. Neither urgent nor important (tasks that you will eliminate).

James Clear has a great description on how to use the Eisenhower Matrix: How to be More Productive By Using the Eisenhower Box

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    The method I use with my coaching clients is to ask them to lay out their Top Five priorities for the day. Then to start with the most important priority first. At the end of the day, you review performance against these priorities.

    If you didn’t get everything accomplished, start the next day with your number one priority.

    If you are given additional task/projects during the day, then you will need to gauge their importance V the other priorities.

    6. Take Time Out

    To stay on top of a heavy workload, it’s important to take time out to rest and recuperate.

    If your energy levels are high and your mind and body is refreshed and alert, you are in more of a peak state to handle a heavy workload.

    Take time out of your day to go for a walk or get some exercise in. Leave early when possible and spend time with people who give you a lot of energy.

    In the background, it’s essential to get a good night’s sleep and eat healthily to sharpen the mind.

    Take a look at this article learn about The Importance of Scheduling Downtime.

    7. Maintain a Healthy Work-Life Balance

    Maintaining a healthy work-life balance can be tough. The balance we all crave is very different from one another.

    I’ve written before about 13 Work Life Balance Tips for a Happy and Productive Life. Working longer and harder doesn’t mean achieving more, especially if you have no time to spend with the people that matter most. The quality of who you are as a person, the relationships you have, the time you spend in work, deciding on what matters most is completely within your control.

    Work-life balance is about finding peace within yourself to be fully present, wherever you are, whether that be in the office or at home, right now. It’s about choosing what matters most and creating your own balanced life.

    If you feel there is not enough balance, then it may be time to make a change.

    8. Stop Multitasking

    Multi-tasking is a myth. Your brain simply can’t work effectively by doing more than one thing at a time—at least more than one thing that requires focused attention.

    So get your list of priorities (see earlier point), do the most important thing first, then move to the next item and work down your list.

    When you split your focus over a multitude of different areas, you can’t consistently deliver a high performance. You won’t be fully present on the one task or project at hand.

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    If you allocate blocked time and create firm boundaries for specific activities and commitments, you won’t feel so overwhelmed or overworked with everything you have to do.

    9. Work in Blocks of Time

    To keep your energy up to produce your best results it’s essential to take regular breaks.

    I use the 60-60-30 method myself and teach it to my coaching clients.

    Work on a project for a sustained period of 50 minutes.

    Then take a 10-minute break. This could be taking a walk, having a healthy snack or just having a conversation with someone.

    Then continue to work on the project for a further 50 minutes.

    Then take another 10-minute break.

    Then take a complete 30-minute break to unplug from the work. This could be time for a proper lunch, a quick bit of exercise, reading or having a walk.

    By simply taking some time out, your energy levels stay up, the quality of your work improves and you reduce the risk of becoming burned out.

    10. Get Rid of Distractions

    Make an estimation on how many times you are distracted during an average working day. Now take that number and multiply it by 25. According to Gloria Mark in her study on The Cost of Interrupted Work, it takes us an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds to return to the original task after interruption.[1]

    “Our research has shown that attention distraction can lead to higher stress, a bad mood and lower productivity.”

    Distractions don’t just take up your time during the distraction, they can derail your mental progress and focus for almost 25 minutes. So, if you are distracted 5 times per day, you could be losing almost 2 hours every day of productive work and almost 10 hours every week.

    If you have an important project to work on, find a space where you won’t be distracted, or try doing this.

    11. Commit Focused Time to Smaller Tasks

    You know sometimes, you need to simply tackle these tasks and take action on them. But there’s always something more pressing.

    Small tasks can often get in the way of your most important projects. They sit there on your daily To Do list but are often forgotten about because of more important priorities or because they hold no interest for you. But they take up mental energy. They clutter your mind.

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    Commit to spending a specific period of time completing all the small tasks you have on your To Do list. It will give you peace of mind and the space to focus more on your bigger priorities.

    12. Take a Time Audit

    Do you know exactly where your time is going each day? Are you spending too long on certain projects and tasks to the detriment of bigger opportunities?

    Spend a bit of time to analyze where you are spending your time. This insight will amaze you and give you the clarity to start adjusting where you focus your time and on what projects.

    You can start by taking a piece of paper and creating three columns:

    Column A is Priority Work. Column B is Good Work. Column C is low value work or stuff.

    Each day, write down the project or task and the time spent on each. Allocate that time to one of the columns.

    At the end of the week, record the total time spent in each column.

    If you are spending far too much time on certain types of work, look to change things so your focused time is in Column B and C.

    13. Protect Your Confidence

    It is essential to protect our confidence to ensure we don’t get overwhelmed, stressed and lose belief.

    When you have confidence as a daily resource, you are in a better position to problem solve, learn quicker, respond to anything, adjust to anything, and achieve your biggest opportunities.

    Confidence gives you the ability to transform fear into focused and relaxed thinking, communication, and action. This is key to put your mind into a productive state.

    When confidence is high, you can clearly see the possibilities at hand and create strategies to take advantage of them, or to solve the challenges you face each day.

    Final Words

    A heavy workload can be tough to deal with and can cause stress, burnout and ongoing frustration.

    The key is to tackle it head on, rather than let it go on and compound the long-term effects. Hopefully, you can take action on at least one of these tips.

    If it gets too much, and negatively affects your physical and mental health, it may be time to talk to someone. Instead of dealing with it alone and staying unhappier, resentful and getting to a point where you simply can’t cope, you have to make a change for your own sanity.

    Featured photo credit: Hannah Wei via unsplash.com

    Reference

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