In this episode, I’m sharing ten things I wish I had known before becoming a leader.
Because I’ve been there. I’ve been a leader in the engineering and corporate world for 10 years and in that time, I really quickly moved up the leadership ladder. I started with a small team and then I got to lead bigger teams all the way to senior leadership role, where I actually managed teams in different countries in Australia and Southeast Asia.
I’ve learned many things along the way. There were a lot of challenges that I had to face on this journey in a male dominated environment. I set myself really high targets and was often very self critical. I was doubting myself and I was really hard on myself as well. There were many moments where I struggled, where I didn’t know how to manage difficult employees, where I had to have really difficult and tough conversations. So there’s a lot that I learned along the way and some things I wish I had known just a little bit earlier, so that could either release some pressure or use some really beneficial strategies straight away.
So today, I share some of those things, including:
- Invest in your own training and development (especially if you’re employer won’t)
- Your relationships may change and it can be lonely at times
- Check your unconscious bias regularly
- Strong leadership is about influence not authority
- And of course, lead like you because being authentic & vulnerable builds trust
Scroll down for this episode’s transcript.
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I’ve been there. I’ve been a leader in the engineering and corporate world for 10 years. And today in this episode, I’m going to share with you 10 things that I wish I had known before I became a leader.
Hi, and welcome back to the Lead Like You podcast, where I encourage and empower emerging leaders to lead with courage, authenticity, emotional intelligence, and their strength. And in today’s episode, I’m going to share with you 10 things that I wish I had known before I became a manager. I reflected on my journey and my leadership journey.
And I looked at what is the things that I had to learn. All the way, some were a bit more difficult to learn somewhere easier to learn. And yes, I’m bringing that to you in this episode.
So to begin with a little bit about me and my career path. So I’m originally from Germany. I now live in Melbourne in Australia and I’m an engineer. I did a Bachelor and Master degree in Germany, in mechanical, and then manufacturing engineering. And I started my career in the rail industry and I was really lucky that I got to work in Berlin in Germany, in Canada, in the US and then in Melbourne in Australia.
And I really quickly moved up the leadership ladder. I started with a small team and then I got to lead bigger teams all the way to senior leadership role, where I actually managed teams in different countries in Australia and Southeast Asia.
I’ve learned many things along the way. There were a lot of challenges that I had to face on this journey in a male dominated environment. They were a lot of self-doubt I’m a person, I always set myself really high targets. I’m very critical of myself. I often judge myself really harshly. So I had lots of moments where my confidence was absolutely down.
I was doubting myself and I was really hard on myself as well. There were many moments where I struggled, where I didn’t know how to manage difficult employees, where had to have really difficult and tough conversations. So there’s a lot that I learned along the way and some things I wish I had known just a little bit earlier, so that could either release some pressure or use some really beneficial strategies straight away.
Now I work as a leadership coach and I do share all of this knowledge and all of this, what I’ve learned with my clients on a one-on-one basis, but also now in my new Lead Like You group coaching program, it’s a 12 week program that we’re kicking off in March. Where I support emerging leaders like you to really learn their own way of doing their leadership, their authenticity, to embracing their strengths and to build these strategies, to have the difficult conversations, to really empower their team members, to feel confident as leaders to back themselves, to really speak up, to be assertive. And this is something that I share with them in this group program.
If you’re interested in that, then have a look at annekoopmann.com/leadlikeyou, and you can find more about the program. But today, I want to share with you a few things and 10 things that I wish I had known before I started my leadership career. So let’s get into it.
The first thing I want to share with you is that it’s important that you invest in your own development in your own coaching, in your own training. Because back when I started my career as a leader, I relied on my company to invest in my leadership training. I almost requested it from them. And I was really disappointed when I didn’t get what I wanted, but there was something inside me that thought, well, they have to support it, have to pay it.
And it took me a few years to actually see and take ownership of my own development and be like, okay, hang on. If they don’t have budget for it, if they not prepared to pay for my development, I want to be the best leader I can be. So I want to invest in my own training. I remember even when I had a promotion to a first bigger management role that I even asked explicitly for a coach, because I was getting into an environment that was really challenging.
I knew I was going to have a hard time. I knew that this was going to take a lot of courageous action from me and I really, really wanted to have a coach by my side that I could ask for help, for support along the way, that would help me to figure out the best way in difficult situations. And I was shut down. And I remember that I was so disappointed because here I was being proactive about wanting to be the best leader that could be, and then being shut down.
And I was told at that point that no, we only hire a coach as an intervention. If somebody has problems, if they’re struggling, if they’re messed up. And for me, that never made sense. Cause I’m like, but I should invest in a coach, before I get started, I should invest in a coach right at the start.
So that I have someone on my side to help me figure out the best way I can be a leader and help me figure out strategies and difficult situations so that nothing ever has to escalate that I actually are able to manage these difficult situations. So I took charge of my own development. At some point I invested in my own training and coaching, and that really was a catalyst for my leadership development.
As soon as I started to invest in my development and not wait for the company that I was working for to actually invest in my development.
Advice number two is that relationships will change and not everyone is going to like you as a leader. Not everyone is going to connect with you. And also with your peers, you might now be managing them. The relationships will change, and that is okay.
But it can also be lonely sometimes. So when you get into your leadership role, be prepared that you have to find new relationships, you have to find new support. If it’s difficult in your company, because as you move up, there’s obviously less peers around you because obviously there’s less leaders as closer as you move to the top.
So start to build your connection, your network, outside of your organization, go to networking events. When you invest in leadership training, you will find and meet other leaders there. You can start to engage in them. That’s why for me, for example, in my group program, it’s really important that we build that connection, that there is a place that is safe. It’s outside of your organization. And when we share stories, we share struggles. We can get into an exchange. We can give advice to one another. We can learn from our own stories, but we are in a safe place and we have peers that we can rely on. So invest in these networks, invest in this relationships.
Get a mentor that can support you, but also just be prepared that relationships inside your organization will change. It’s part of the job and it can sometimes feel lonely. So make sure you check in with yourself regularly and look at what do you need right now, if you start to feel a bit lonely. And another thing I want to add here is that for me, for example, when I started to manage peers, I remember I went through a time where I was really self-conscious about how should I react and how should I manage them?
And I almost put my guard up a little bit too much because there was a time when I was managing, really, really cool people. And, you know, they were quite keen to just be socially active. They would even invite me to come out for beers. Right. Even though if I was their leader and their manager, and it was a part of me that was kind of closed up, I was like, oh, I can’t give away too much.
I don’t, you know, I want to be seen professional and I don’t want to mix up these relationships, but I do think whilst of course there is a change of relationships and while of course, you can’t really be best buddies with your teammates. There’s still a real merit in investing in that relationship and going out for social events and letting your guard down a little bit. You’re not gonna lose their respect, or you’re not gonna lose that relationship as their leader.
If you open up a little bit and if you start to just build that relationship. So I probably, for the first year, I was a bit too closed off and I think I wish that. I started a bit early to be a bit more relaxed about just letting it happen and building those relationships.
The third thing I want to mention here is that you have to look after your wellbeing. You don’t owe that company, anything in that sense, right? Because what happens to a lot of emerging leaders and I was, you know, I was always a high achiever and. Some of you might be as well, probably. And the problem is that we think we got to work hard.
You know, we’ve worked our way up here and we got to continue to work hard. And I did so much overtime, like so much overtime. I almost felt like that’s something I had to do as a leader to prove myself probably almost. And I did, I worked so hard. I stayed so late. I mean, part of that was also because I was working in international company.
I had late conference calls. But if I have late conference calls, I didn’t have to be in the office at 8:00 AM. Right. So how would I have been able to manage my time a bit better? The company is never gone to thank you for all the overtime, they will just take, take, take. If you give it to them, of course, they’re going to take it.
So you will have to take care of your own wellbeing, manage your work time. There’s nothing wrong with loving to work and spending a lot of time at work. Even now my own business, I just love to work. And so there’s nothing wrong with wanting to work. But make sure that you, watch your wellbeing, that you are in charge of making sure you have time off to do other things, and you’re responsible for your wellbeing.
So tune into yourself. If things are challenging, give yourself a break. What is it that you need to fill your cup, to manage your emotional energy, to manage your resilience? So it’s important to stop that early, have practices in place that help you to relax at the end of the day, leading is really exhausting.
And if there are situations that are quite tough, can be really exhausting to, you know, keep it up, manage other people’s emotions and manage your own emotions. So watch out for your own wellbeing and don’t do too much over time.
The next point I want to make is that it’s really important to learn and understand about your unconscious bias, because we all have unconscious bias and there’s a few episodes I actually did on a unconscious bias that I’ve linked in the show notes, because it’s really important to understand unconscious bias, to understand how it might show up for us.
And then what we can do to challenge that bias because we all have it. We all look for people that are similar to us. We enjoy working with people that think similarly to us, but that could lead to us, hiring people that are similar to us instead of hiring for diversity and hiring for people with different experiences, different opinions that might challenge us, but actually will be better for the organization.
So really start to look at what could be your unconscious bias that is at play and start to challenge that. I think that’s something that’s important to learn really early on.
Another tip is to really prepare for critical conversations. Don’t underestimate how difficult it is to give good feedback, to engage in fruitful feedback conversations. They don’t have to be awkward. They don’t have to be hard, if you prepare. And if you study a little bit of how you can do it the best way, if you have to have different conversations really put in the time to prepare. You owe it to your team, if you have performance reviews, prepare.
Think out of the box for their development, start to really come with really cool and inspiring points because that will make a massive difference. If you just rock up and you think it’s going to work, you might say things that will be taken the wrong way, and you might not have thought deep enough about what you can do for your people, for your team members.
You have to look at well, how can you help them and think a bit creatively? And if you have really challenging conversations, like maybe you have to let someone go. Really, really, really prepare, be really intentional about what you’re going to say. How are you going to say it? And why are you going to say it?
I remember the first conversation where I had to let someone go. I prepared a lot and I was so anxious still. And it’s one of the hardest conversations you can ever have. And it still haunts me today because I could have probably done it a little bit better, but that’s also where my other, other tip is with regards to critical conversations.
It is that it’s okay to learn. We try our best. We prepare, we go into conversations the best way we can afterwards, take some time to reflect and see about what did I say? What could I have said differently? Where could I have had maybe a different way of going about it and just look at how can I learn from this, for the next one?
And then conversation by conversation, you will get better at it and you will start to master even the difficult conversations.
The next point is that it’s okay to ask for help. When we get promoted to a leader or a manager, we feel like we have to already know how to do it, how to make it all work. We have to pretend that we got it all figured out. We think that to get the respect or to get the people to follow us, we got to show that we are super confident and we got it all figured out.
You don’t need to it’s okay. To ask for help. Leadership is not easy. Maybe you get promoted to a department that you haven’t worked with before. Of course you will have questions. It’s okay to ask for help. It’s even gonna make your team members feel very valued because you value their opinion, their expertise.
It’s okay to ask for help from peers or even other people. You don’t have to pretend you’ve got it all figured out and even stress yourself because you feel like you can’t make a mistake. Mistakes are fine. We can learn from our mistakes and failures. The more you’re open, the more you’re vulnerable, you will actually connect much better with your team members.
And don’t shy away from asking for help The next point is that being a courageous leader means that you can’t control everything and you need to still show up. Brene Brown says that courage actually means that you still show up. Even if you can’t control the outcome. It’s too easy to hide and runaway, but there’s so many aspects that you can’t control.
You can’t control how individuals show up. You can’t control how they will perform. You can’t control how motivated they are. You can influence it, but you can’t control every single outcome and you have to be okay with that. You have to develop the trust in your own abilities that you can figure it out. With human connection, with the relationships you build and with your own mind to start to think strategically start to find solutions and problem solve when things are happening.
But you have to be okay with feeling out of your comfort zone. And with there being a lot of things that are out of your control that you can influence, but you will never be able to fully control them.
And that’s what leads us into the next point, because leadership is about influence and not authority because you can’t make people want to follow you. You just can’t, it’s not based on authority anymore. It’s about them deciding who they want to follow, because they trust you, because they are inspired by you because they can see your vision and they want to be part of that vision.
It’s about influencing people. And that you need to do by connecting on an emotional level, using your emotional intelligence, really starting to build that connection and inspire people so that they want to follow you because they know who you are and what you stand for and what you’re here to do.
It’s not about authority. It’s not about being the loudest, shouting at people using shame. That’s not how you create followers and how you create real impact. You get the most out of people if you create an environment that lets them be at the best, and this is the next point, the main role you have as a leader is creating an environment that lets your people be at their best, in an environment that makes them feel safe.
So psychological safety is a big one here, making them feel safe, showing up the way they are. Making them feel safe when they make mistakes, that mistakes are welcome here because they’re part of growth, helping them owning up to their mistakes and then coaching them to figure out a way to fix something or to work around a problem.
Looking at the strength of the individuals in your team, how are they different? What’s their uniqueness? What is their unique contribution? How can they be at their best based on their strengths? What motivates them? What inspires them? What is it that they need to be at their best? Do they need you to check in one-on-one regularly, do they like to be autonomous and work by themselves and get some responsibility to make decisions.
What working times do they need? What types of tasks do they need? Do they need a lot of detailed information. Do they need a space to present, do they love one-on-one conversations or presenting to a big group. Starting to see what are the strengths? What are the preferences of your team?
How can you create an environment, so each and every one of them can be at the best and they will each need different things from you to help them be at their best. And then magic will happen. If everyone knows how they can be at the best, they know their strength, they know how to invest in their strengths and then know how they can contribute to the purpose of the team with their strength, when they know what the contribution is, they will feel so inspired and motivated.
An important thing here to mention is also that not everyone is going to work the same as you do. Not everyone is going to be motivated by the same things that you do. Not everybody has got to have the same level of attention to detail that you do. So you gotta be okay with people being different to you with people working differently too.
You can’t take that personal. You gotta look at, okay, what do they need? What, what motivates them? And you can’t expect everyone to have the same expectations. So you really gotta figure. What is it that triggers to you here? And start to lead with positive intent instead of thinking, oh, they’re lazy because they’re not working to the same level as I do.
That doesn’t mean that they’re lazy. It just means that they’re motivated by different things or they work differently. Maybe they need more time to think deeply about things they’re not as quickly as you are to take action. So just tune in there and tune into your own reactions there.
And lastly point number 10. It’s so important that you lead like you. And that’s why also my business is called Lead Like You and my 12 week group program is Lead Like You, because you can have the biggest impact when you show up as yourself. When you start to build your unique leadership identity, what you stand for, your values, your purpose, your vision, and your mission become really clear about your leadership promise and the legacy you want to leave behind.
How do you want to manage people? How do you want to make people feel? What are your unique strength? How can you use your strengths to manage your people effectively, to communicate at your best? How can you use your strengths to build your emotional intelligence, to build those relationships, to tune into your empathy, to be self-aware, to self regulate your emotions.
So leading like who you are, showing up authentically with what you stand for. That’s going to be the key for you to build trust with your team, to create followers that want to buy in. They want to be part of your journey and that’s how you will achieve something extra ordinary. You gotta be authentic.
You gotta be like you, you can’t try and lead like someone else it’s about leading like you. And that’s where it’s so, so, so powerful once you’ve unlocked that for yourself So, if you would love to start that journey, then just check out my new group program under annekoopmann.com/leadlikeyou and just join us on that journey for 12 weeks.
One last thing I want to give you on your way is that leading and being a leader is an absolute privilege. Having the ability and the time and opportunity to create such an impact on other people’s lives to creating an environment that lets them be at their best, that lets them absolutely believe in themselves, that lets them trust themselves and get excited and proud of what they’re achieving.
You have the ability to have a massive impact on their lives and how they feel about themselves. It comes with big responsibility because your words matter, your words could make or break a person, but therefore it’s an absolute privilege. If you get to be on somebody’s journey along the way, never forget that.