What I wish I knew before I became a leader. You know it is never easy when we start a new challenge. We learn as we go. We make mistakes. Of course if we had our time again we could do things differently. But would we? Would we have the skills we do now if we didn’t make mistakes?
Regardless, it is always nice to type into google “tips to becoming a leader” and get solid advice that can help you in your leadership journey. That is my aim for today!
Before I dive in, I just wanted to give you the background of my leadership journey. So you can paint the picture and relate the challenges I faced.
Becoming a leader – my story
Before I share my 10 tips, I want to share with you my leadership journey. I’m originally from Germany. I now live in Melbourne in Australia and I’m an Engineer (by trade). 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.
I really quickly moved up the leadership ladder. I started with a small team and then later, I got to lead bigger teams all the way to senior leadership roles, where I actually managed teams in different countries in Australia and Southeast Asia. There were a lot of challenges along the way (in a male dominated environment), and a lot of things that I had to figure out as I grew. There was a lot of self-doubt. I always set myself really high targets. I’m very critical of myself. So I had lots of moments where my confidence was absolutely down.
There were many moments where I struggled, where I didn’t know how to manage difficult employees, or how to have really difficult and tough conversations.
Although these things have helped me be the leader I am today, there were some things I wish I had known just a little bit earlier, so that could either release some pressure or help me with really beneficial strategies straight away.
Now I work as a leadership coach and I do share all of this knowledge and all of this. I share what I’ve learned with my clients on a one-on-one basis, but also now in my Lead Like You Group Coaching Program.
So let me share my 10 tips to becoming a leader – what I wish I knew before I became a leader.
Tip 1: Invest in ongoing support, coaching and training
You can hire your own coach, you don’t need to wait for the company to invest.
Everyone needs someone to talk to, apart from the voices in their head. No one has all of the answers or can cope with everything life throws at them.
Find a mentor, someone you respect and organise scheduled times to meet to discuss both personal and professional issues. Also find a coach, someone who has been there and done it and have them look at what you are doing in your career and give you some sound ideas and strategies that will help you move forward.
My experience: When I started my career as a leader, I relied on my company to invest in my leadership training. I always 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 pay for 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 are not prepared to pay for my development, I want to be the best leader I can be. So I want to invest in 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 wanted to have a coach by my side to 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 I was being proactive about wanting to be the best leader that could be.
I was told at that point that no, we only hire a coach as an intervention. If somebody has problems, if they’re struggling. For me, that never made sense. At some point I invested in my own training and coaching, and that really was a catalyst for my leadership development.
Tip 2: Relationships change, not everyone will like you
It can feel lonely at times. You will not have the same relationship with others, you will upset people.
No matter how hard you try, the relationships that you have with others will change, especially if they report directly to you. It is important to advise those people that you do now wear two hats and that there will be times when decisions and actions will have to be made for the good of the organisation.
It is a part of doing your job. If they cannot see and respect this, then you have to question the relationship. It is ok to let your guard down. I was so worried about being perceived as professional. I struggled to manage friendships I had before. I felt a bit lonely.
Find peers outside of the organisation you can talk to and get into an exchange. Go to networking events/industry/leadership programs. This is safe. It’s outside of your organisation. 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 these relationships.
Tip 3: Look after yourself and your wellbeing
You don’t need to prove anything. Sometimes I still struggle with this one because I actually love my job and don’t find it a chore in any way.
This would be OK if it was just about me, but taking time out is about the other people in my life as well. They need me and want to experience me outside of what I do in the job. So plan for time out. Establish goals and rewards that you can get excited about. This will help you be more satisfied in your leadership role.
My experience: When I worked as a leader. I did 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 an International company.
I had late conference calls. 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 never said “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 in my own business, I just love to work. And so there’s nothing wrong with wanting. But make sure that you are in charge of making sure you have time off to do other things, and you’re responsible for your wellbeing.
Tip 4: Check your unconscious bias regularly
Don’t hire people just like you. This is known as an unconscious bias. Of course, it comes up from time to time. It is about being self awareness enough to know when it comes up. Those who are easy to work with if we are similar, see the strengths in people that are different.
Here is a YouTube video ALL about this:
Tip 5: Your main role is to help your people be at their best
Create an environment for people to be at their best. They come to work to do a good job, to be successful. They are not there to purposely mess up or be lazy.
One of our key roles as a leader is that once we have put people in a position where they can be successful, is to explain to them how that success can be achieved and to let them know that we will be there to provide support if needed. We need to work on creating belief in themselves, and also in us as leaders. Do that and your teams will become excited and will look to move mountains.
Everyone’s a little afraid of failure. Most people act based on fear of failure or fear of not fitting in, fear to lose control.
Remember, not everyone works the way you do!
Many clients are frustrated, high achievers, and have high expectations of themselves.
Much of your frustration comes not from people not doing their job, but rather not doing it the same way you do. You often hear people say that everyone is different and that they achieve things in different ways.
This is very true, however, sometimes you don’t have the time to allow this to happen.
Again, take a step back and ask yourself these questions, ‘Am I being unreasonable? Is my impatience and lack of willingness to allow them time to learn, the problem?’ or, ‘Am I just blinkered and set in my ways?’
The differences make the difference.
Tip 6: Prepare for critical conversations
Prepare, prepare, prepare for feedback and performance reviews.
Research, read, ask for advice.
You might mess up, but you can learn. Reflect afterward what you could have done better. You evolve as you grow.
Here is a YouTube video on “how to perform effective performance reviews” to give you some guidance:
Tip 7: It’s OK to ask for help and make mistakes
Surely, this is a sign of weakness? To think this and not to ask for help is not only a sign of weakness but a sign of pride that will eventually bring you down and alienate you from other people. It is not only OK to ask for help, it is absolutely essential if you are to develop in your leadership role.
If you are not making mistakes then you are not trying anything new. Part of growing as a human being is about how you respond to and learn from the mistakes you make. You will make mistakes and so has everyone else who has succeeded in a leadership role.
Give yourself a break. One of the best strategies for moving past your mistakes is to know what you did wrong, identify what you have learned from the situation and to set new goals.
Tip 8: You can’t control everything
Courage means to show up even if you can’t control the outcome. Surely this can’t be true! This can sometimes be one of the hardest lessons to learn. There is a huge difference between being in control and being controlling.
The latter usually comes from not allowing others to shine, or from not understanding the benefits of delegation and teamwork. If people are better than you at doing something, then let them do it, but be sure that you give them the authority to make it happen. Step back and let go of the control. It is amazing how it will reduce your stress levels.
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 a 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 a thing, strategically start to find solutions and problem solve when things are happening.
But you have to be okay with feeling outside, 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.
Tip 9: It’s all about Influence not authority
Influence gives the leader the power to get things done. We cannot force anyone to do anything, especially follow us. We have to show them that we are the right person to lead, not because we were given a title, but because we have good knowledge, good character, a good network, a good reputation and a good worth ethic.
Be authentic, value driven.
It’s not about authority. It’s not about being the loudest, shouting at people using shame. That’s not how you create followers. You get the most out of people if you create an environment that lets them be at their 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. Making them feel safe when they make mistakes is welcome here because they’re part of growth, helping them own 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? 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? Just some questions you can think about.
How can you create this type of environment? So each and every one of them can be at their best and they will each need different things from you to help them be at their best.
If everyone knows how they can be at their best, they know their strengths, 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 thing as 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.
Tip 10: Lead Like You!
Learn to lead like YOU! Like yourself, not like everyone else. Being authentic and vulnerable builds trust. Don’t attempt to wear a mask.
My experience: I remember when I was given my first role, I was worried that I wouldn’t be good enough, I had my first bout of imposter syndrome, and that made me very self-protective. I did everything I could to hide all of this. I created a cloak of invulnerability that I wore everyday. It made me hide my faults, deny my mistakes, and want to try and show that I was the smartest person in the room on every topic. But this actually alienated people, especially those who knew me best because this was inauthentic behaviour.
Over time I realised that by being vulnerable, admitting to mistakes, owning my faults and telling the team that they knew more than me, especially on technical topics. That actually built trust, built a stronger connection with my team which made me a better leader.
Don’t be so scared to be found out as a fraud. You are there for a reason. Nothing is going to happen to you!
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? What are your unique strengths? 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 and self-regulate.
Remember? 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 extraordinary. 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 powerful once you’ve unlocked that for you. Learn what type of leader you are (so you can lead more like you), but take my FREE quiz!
Check out these two podcasts to help you:
It is a privilege to be in leadership.
Above all of the challenges you may experience you must never forget that it is an absolute privilege to be in a leadership role.
To have the ability to have input into the decision-making processes of an organisation and to be able to have input into the lives of the people you are responsible for is a privilege. If you don’t feel this way then you need to either step back for a while and review your own situation, or get out of the position altogether.
There is time, don’t worry about the next step while you’re still learning.
You have the ability to have a massive impact on your team’s lives and how they feel about themselves. It comes with big responsibility because your words matter, your words. 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.
Trust your instinct. It is all about the people and human skills, don’t worry that you are missing technical skills or knowledge.
Learn what type of leader you are (so you can lead more like you), but take my FREE quiz!