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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 Resilence Coach who is passionate about thriving and growing in a complex world

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Last Updated on September 20, 2018

8 Ways to Train Your Brain to Learn Faster and Remember More

8 Ways to Train Your Brain to Learn Faster and Remember More

You go to the gym to train your muscles. You run outside or go for hikes to train your endurance. Or, maybe you do neither of those, but still wish you exercised more.

Well, here is how to train one of the most important parts of your body: your brain.

When you train your brain, you will:

  • Avoid embarrassing situations. You remember his face, but what was his name?
  • Be a faster learner in all sorts of different skills. No problem for you to pick up a new language or new management skill.
  • Avoid diseases that hit as you get older. Alzheimer’s will not be affecting you.

So how to train your brain and improve your cognitive skills?

1. Work your memory

Twyla Tharp, a NYC-based renowned choreographer has come up with the following memory workout:

When she watches one of her performances, she tries to remember the first twelve to fourteen corrections she wants to discuss with her cast without writing them down.

If you think this is anything less than a feat, then think again. In her book The Creative Habit she says that most people cannot remember more than three.

The practice of both remembering events or things and then discussing them with others has actually been supported by brain fitness studies.

Memory activities that engage all levels of brain operation—receiving, remembering and thinking—help to improve the function of the brain.

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Now, you may not have dancers to correct, but you may be required to give feedback on a presentation, or your friends may ask you what interesting things you saw at the museum. These are great opportunities to practically train your brain by flexing your memory muscles.

What is the simplest way to help yourself remember what you see? Repetition.

For example, say you just met someone new:

“Hi, my name is George”

Don’t just respond with, “Nice to meet you”. Instead, say, “Nice to meet you George.”

Got it? Good.

2. Do something different repeatedly

By actually doing something new over and over again, your brain wires new pathways that help you do this new thing better and faster.

Think back to when you were three years old. You surely were strong enough to hold a knife and a fork just fine. Yet, when you were eating all by yourself, you were creating a mess.

It was not a matter of strength, you see. It was a matter of cultivating more and better neural pathways that would help you eat by yourself just like an adult does.

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And guess what? With enough repetition you made that happen!

But how does this apply to your life right now?

Say you are a procrastinator. The more you don’t procrastinate, the more you teach your brain not to wait for the last minute to make things happen.

Now, you might be thinking “Duh, if only not procrastinating could be that easy!”

Well, it can be. By doing something really small, that you wouldn’t normally do, but is in the direction of getting that task done, you will start creating those new precious neural pathways.

So if you have been postponing organizing your desk, just take one paper and put in its right place. Or, you can go even smaller. Look at one piece of paper and decide where to put it: Trash? Right cabinet? Another room? Give it to someone?

You don’t actually need to clean up that paper; you only need to decide what you need to do with it.

That’s how small you can start. And yet, those neural pathways are still being built. Gradually, you will transform yourself from a procrastinator to an in-the-moment action taker.

3. Learn something new

It might sound obvious, but the more you use your brain, the better its going to perform for you.

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For example, learning a new instrument improves your skill of translating something you see (sheet music) to something you actually do (playing the instrument).

Learning a new language exposes your brain to a different way of thinking, a different way of expressing yourself.

You can even literally take it a step further, and learn how to dance. Studies indicate that learning to dance helps seniors avoid Alzheimer’s. Not bad, huh?

4. Follow a brain training program

The Internet world can help you improve your brain function while lazily sitting on your couch. A clinically proven program like BrainHQ can help you improve your memory, or think faster, by just following their brain training exercises.

5. Work your body

You knew this one was coming didn’t you? Yes indeed, exercise does not just work your body; it also improves the fitness of your brain.

Even briefly exercising for 20 minutes facilitates information processing and memory functions. But it’s not just that–exercise actually helps your brain create those new neural connections faster. You will learn faster, your alertness level will increase, and you get all that by moving your body.

Now, if you are not already a regular exerciser, and already feel guilty that you are not helping your brain by exercising more, try a brain training exercise program like Exercise Bliss.

Remember, just like we discussed in #2, by training your brain to do something new repeatedly, you are actually changing yourself permanently.

6. Spend time with your loved ones

If you want optimal cognitive abilities, then you’ve got to have meaningful relationships in your life.  Talking with others and engaging with your loved ones helps you think more clearly, and it can also lift your mood.

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If you are an extrovert, this holds even more weight for you. At a class at Stanford University, I learned that extroverts actually use talking to other people as a way to understand and process their own thoughts.

I remember that the teacher told us that after a personality test said she was an extrovert, she was surprised. She had always thought of herself as an introvert. But then, she realized how much talking to others helped her frame her own thoughts, so she accepted her new-found status as an extrovert.

7. Avoid crossword puzzles

Many of us, when we think of brain fitness, think of crossword puzzles. And it’s true–crossword puzzles do improve our fluency, yet studies show they are not enough by themselves.

Are they fun? Yes. Do they sharpen your brain? Not really.

Of course, if you are doing this for fun, then by all means go ahead. If you are doing it for brain fitness, then you might want to choose another activity

8. Eat right – and make sure dark chocolate is included

Foods like fish, fruits, and vegetables help your brain perform optimally. Yet, you might not know that dark chocolate gives your brain a good boost as well.

When you eat chocolate, your brain produces dopamine. And dopamine helps you learn faster and remember better. Not to mention, chocolate contains flavonols, antioxidants, which also improve your brain functions.

So next time you have something difficult to do, make sure you grab a bite or two of dark chocolate!

The bottom line

Now that you know how to train your brain, it’s actually time to start doing.

Don’t just consume this content and then go on with your life as if nothing has changed. Put this knowledge into action and become smarter than ever!

Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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