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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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Last Updated on May 23, 2019

Ditch Work Life Balance and Embrace Work Life Harmony

Ditch Work Life Balance and Embrace Work Life Harmony

How do you usually go about your day?

Do you wake up in the morning, get ready for work, and then spend the whole day looking forward to being at home and unwinding?

We often hear about work life balance – having a good balance between work and personal time. Whilst this may sound like a smart idea, it can also imply that we should dedicate at least half of our time to work–and sacrifice time for our “personal life”.

To me, that seems…off balance. Because, the truth is, it’s nearly impossible to split your time equally between the two. And, you may end up stressing out if you’re not able to meet that expectation of balance.

Instead, why not think of having work life harmony instead?

With this mindset, you can actually integrate work into your life in a way that feels more complete. This way, you don’t need to view work and having personal time as separate.

So, how do you achieve work life harmony?

Work Life Harmony Explained

The difference between work life balance and work life harmony is pretty simple. With the former, there is an implication that you have to sacrifice your “life” for work. But, this is the worst way to go about things! How can you truly be at peace in life if you dread 8 hours of your day?

Work life harmony on the other hand, allows your work to be a part of your life. This means that you can choose to be happy both at home, and at work! Work no longer needs to be seen as the ‘bad’ or un-fun activity.

Having work life harmony also ensures you’re truly present in whatever place you find yourself.

Just take a look at Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon for example.

He uses a non traditional approach to work by making time for breakfast every morning with his family, doesn’t set his alarm before going to bed, schedules surprisingly few meetings, and still puts aside a few minutes every day to wash his own dishes.

He believes that all his staff should stop trying to achieve a ‘balance’ in their work and personal lives as that implies a trade off. Instead, he envisions a more holistic relationship between the two.

As the world’s richest man, he must be doing something right!

Rethink Time Management

Now, when we think of striking a balance, we usually associate it with time, don’t we? How much time are we spending at work versus how much time are we spending in our personal lives?Are we taking enough time to be with our loved ones, to do meaningful activities with others or even for ourselves, or are we just dedicating all our time to work?

This is the so-called-balance that many struggle with.

With work life harmony, we learn to rethink time management. By re-assessing how you manage your time, you’ll have a lot more of it. It’s incredible how much time can get wasted over the period of a day–especially when you’re not accurately tracking it.

Unfortunately, unless you’re consciously making an effort, your brain is not always the best at making accurate judgement calls when it comes to prioritizing. It tends to have a bias towards short term benefits and short term costs.

As there are often many more options our brains link to short term benefit; when you’re trying to focus on a task that gives you a long term benefit, that task usually becomes low priority. This is otherwise known as Priority Chaos.

In order to overcome this and be in better control of your time, identify the tasks that need the most focus to get accomplished. If it’s a big task, then it’s good to break it down into smaller bite-sized actions that will provide you with a clearer short term benefit.

When setting up tasks, give yourself a time limit. The brain has a bias towards short term benefits, and your attention span is limited, so if your tasks are going to take ages to complete, you’ll end up losing focus… and wasting time.

Once you have all your tasks written down, it’s time to prioritize them. Since you have a time limit, your focus should be on the top priority tasks. By doing this, you will already be able to get more done in less time at work!

Have Passion for What You Do

Managing your time is important in achieving that work life harmony. But, perhaps of greater importance, is loving what you do in life. One of the most effective ways to achieve a work life harmony is to really enjoy, or find a purpose, in what you do for a living. Even though everyone isn’t always lucky enough to find a position that pays them for pursuing their passion, you can strive to find meaning in what you are already doing, or pursue something new entirely!

For example, say you work at an office that sells paper. While many people wouldn’t consider this a world changing pursuit, I beg to differ. Think of all the individuals in the world that rely on paper. From creative types to quantum physics experts, your role at your workplace brings incredible value to many many people all over the world. You will have, without a doubt, helped bring a new idea into existence. Several new ideas to be precise.

So have a think about what you’re doing now. Is it something that allows you to embrace your passion?

Or perhaps you might not even know what it is that you love or enjoy doing. Why not explore and reflect on what gives you joy and contentment? Is there an area or industry that you could see yourself exploring to experience that fulfillment?

Can you find a deeper purpose in what you’re already doing?

When you’re able to find meaning in your work, you’re that much closer to achieving work life harmony.

Don’t Be Intimidated By Obstacles and Limitations

Creating work life harmony is also about understanding yourself–which includes your limitations and past obstacles–as this allows you to become more resilient.

If you never had to experience struggles, challenges or setbacks, then you would never be forced to adapt and mature. So in theory, having to face obstacles in life is actually quite necessary.

Most of us think of setbacks and obstacles as negative. Though, if you’re able to maintain an optimistic attitude, you’ll almost always have a higher chance of success of overcoming those obstacles to reach your eventual goal.

Your attitude towards setbacks will define the outcome of whether you rise from the challenge or remain stuck in it. So, in order to achieve work life harmony, it’s important to have a resilient attitude as challenges will always come your way–especially when you strive to integrate work into your life, and not a separate or dominant part of life.

Delegate When You Need To

Of course, when you want to increase productivity and minimize the time or effort spent, a great way to do so is to delegate!

If you spend a lot of time doing tasks on your own that could be delegated to others (whether at work or at home) you’re losing a lot of precious free time that could otherwise be spent elsewhere.

At the end of the day, we all have a limited amount of time. So we should all be striving to create a harmonious work and living situation where we can find meaning in all that we do.

While an overall goal may be meaningful, not all of the milestones or tasks needed to get there may be meaningful. That’s because we have our strengths and weaknesses, likes and dislikes. Not every task is going to be enjoyable or easy to complete. That’s where delegation comes in.

Delegation simply allows you to leverage time from an external source, thus giving you opportunities to increase your own quality of time. Keep in mind that delegation should be done with deliberate attention, otherwise you may end up over relying on others.

If you find that you’re running into the problem of over delegating, then it may be time to re-evaluate your motivation for doing whatever it is that you’re doing.

Embrace the Circle and Become Happier and More Productive

Living in harmony is about feeling good about the ways in which you spend your time, despite how busy you may be.Your switch from work mode to a more personal mode should be effortless. It’s about integrating your personal life and the things you love into your busy work life!

It all begins with the shift in perspective. Understanding what your passions are, and learning to be resilient, before taking a different approach to the way you manage your time and everyday tasks.

These are steps that you can start taking to move away from balance to harmony. 

Featured photo credit: Photo by Marten Bjork on Unsplash via unsplash.com

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