As a leadership coach, I am frequently reminded that leadership is often learned ‘on the job’. No-one prepares you for; the countless decisions you need to make every day, the challenge of time, managing the external and internal pressures, bringing out the best in all, to name but a few.
While looking back to the early days of their leadership, I often hear leaders say, “if only I had said/done this earlier”, “if only I had been clear about this”, “if only I hadn’t said yes”. It’s always about lessons they wished they had learned earlier, the preparation for leadership.
There are repeating themes from most leaders I coach and while the following is not a complete list, it’s a start.
- Know and set out your core values from day 1
Leaders often feel they have been slow in being explicit about what’s important to them. They are often hesitant at being too forthright with this as they believe it’s right to ‘know’ the organisation, its people and its history. Yet none of this knowledge effects what we believe in. If our values are truth, equality, social justice, compassion, ambition for example, what difference would that knowledge make? From the moment we set out our values, people begin to understand us and we can begin to make decisions based on these. We start from a transparent place not from one where there is curiosity or suspicion about our motives.
- Accept that a life balance won’t always exist
There is little point expecting this to be the case when every day brings new unforeseen challenges. Our best laid plans for our evening ahead can be scuppered by 7.30am that morning. If we accept that we can avoid disappointing ourselves or others. What we must do instead is ensure we find pay back. If that evening activity was lost to us, how do we recompense later that week. How can we remove something from our priorities that just isn’t that urgent? Or better still, how can we delegate to others….
- Be confident about delegating
Some leaders see delegation as a form of weakness, offloading because they can’t cope. For some, only they can do the job well enough. Others are able to delegate to the point of abdication.
I ask my clients to remember when they were entrusted to carry out something by their leader. Then, how did this make them feel, what did they learn, how did they grow, what responsibility went with it? Words repeated back at me were; trusted, empowered, privileged,excited. Perhaps it’s time to flip the term delegate into something much more positive; entrust, empower, develop, invest.
- It’s okay to take time to make decisions, providing…
…you make them.
The most frustrating thing for those awaiting decisions is not necessarily the outcome but the knowing it will take place and when. As leaders become more experienced they are able to make quick decisions especially on recurring issues, and especially when they are clearly values based. The difficult ones may need longer to accomplish.
Rather than ruminate over the pros and cons of the decision in the first instance, focus on the information you will need to know to make it, who do you need to speak to, what do you need to read, what advice do you seek? And then, set a deadline for when you are able to do this. Communicate this deadline to offset any frustration for those who wait.
- How we lead other leaders
Setting out expectations for how we want our leaders to lead is something to consider before day 1. Bad habits are difficult to break so ensuring this is clear and explicit and, more crucially, modelled from the off. Picture the best leader you had…what was it about their leadership that inspired you, how did they model leadership, how did they bring out the best in you?
- It’s okay to make mistakes
Of course it is. If you are committed to perfection, it’s not going to work. We learn and grow from mistakes and if we model failure, we allow others to do so too. We give them space and confidence to take risks and if it doesn’t work ask ourselves the question, what would we do differently next time? Most organisations expect their people to take risks and make mistakes – if they were ‘perfect’ on appointment, how will they develop in the organisation?
While it would be wonderful to have thought through all these, we must acknowledge that we too are not ‘fully formed’ leaders when we step into our new role. And, like our teams, we will mistakes and learn from them. We then find the courage and determination to reset, to draw a line in the sand and put our lessons learned into practice.