I am not going to go via standard leadership definitions nor differences against management, there’s already too much of it all over the place. However what I am going to share are key challenges and at the same time leadership awareness milestones that every staring leader stumbles upon.
I am not one of those people that will state that you are other born as a leader or not. You surely can be born with a set of traits that make leadership easier, doesn’t mean you will use it well. In my view you are becoming a leader which means it’s not given but it’s a process – something you need to learn and grow into.
Self-awareness. This is first and fundamental thing you need to learn, discover, work out. Understanding yourself is truly the basic and I would say the hardest thing, especially that it comes at the beginning of your leadership road. But what does sit really mean? For me self-awareness is understanding of:
- What are you good at? – what are your key traits, what value do you bring to the table. This is the thing that should be your primary focus, items that you should invest in.
- What are your limitations? – realize what limits you. It might be lack of certain knowledge, specific way of looking at things, skillset. This will be a thing that you need to address, if possible. If not – don’t kill yourself over it – learn how to work around it – otherwise it will drag you down.
- What values do you have? – what drives you? What are your priorities?
- What borders will you not cross – are there any things you wouldn’t do, rules you wouldn’t break, approaches you wouldn’t take?
I have this luck of being a highly self-aware person. I very well understand where I can add value and that the thing that limits me is lack of technical knowledge and background. For many many years I was agonizing myself over not being technical however working on IT projects. I won’t hide – it was hard. To someone who never had anything to do with servers, switches and databases – IT is like another language to learn but with absorbing additional layer of logic at the same time.
I was working 16 hrs per day, 7 days a week and still wasn’t thinking I am good enough. At that moment I was asking myself whether it’s worth it. I wasn’t able to become technical at the level I would wish, hence I was standing in front of a choice – resign from chasing my dreams or learn how to work around my limits. Thankfully I have chosen the latter and learned to surround myself with technical people who can bridge the gap.
Acceptance. This goes with everything what comes out of self-awareness. Accept that the thing you are good at is the primary (and maybe only) thing you can bring to the table. Accept your limitations, fight with them but if you can’t – find a way to work around them. Accepted what drives you, although it may not be popular. Accept the rules and borders you won’t breach even if it can mean an end to your career.
Acceptance means you are not only a self-aware leader but also a one that acknowledges the benefits and consequences of being who you are.
Staying true to yourself. This is an alignment with who you are and how you operate. This is avoiding pretending someone who you are not, having knowledge you don’t have, possessing things you can’t afford. It helps to avoid manipulation, make the right decisions and drive others in a consistent way.
Important tip here – don’t underestimate the power and the trap of feedback.
At the beginning of my leadership road I have met a lot of people that were supportive of my development. Because I am highly open to feedback I have fallen into a trap of naive thinking that if I will implement it all I will become a better leader and a person. How wrong I was…. And it’s not because the feedback wasn’t valuable – it was because everyone have a different perspective. By one my directness is perceived as being rude, for others it’s a blessing that helps to work through complex situations. I didn’t look at the feedback via a perspective of a person that was sharing it. I was bluntly believing it’s the right way forward…. Until the feedback started to exclude each other, until there was so much feedback that I couldn’t absorb it, until there were so many expectations of me that I wasn’t even able to distinguish whether they are talking about the same person that I was before. Again here I was standing in front of a choice – stay who you are or make significant changes. So I came back to my self-awareness questions and decided to be selective on the feedback I am going to implement and learned to acknowledge existence of the feedback that’s not in line with who I am and want to be.
There will be times in your leadership career when you will be standing in front of decisions that are against the way you operate. This is the time when you need more than ever to be self-aware. Staying true to yourself in that situations will be difficult as it may have different consequences to you and your career. Whatever decision you will make, with high self-awareness and acceptance, it at least will be very conscious.
In my experience, how you deal with the above components, strongly shapes your leadership style. Soon after you step on the leadership road you will understand that the path you have chosen doesn’t touch only on your work. It gets into your blood system and is visible in the way you act on daily basis – when you give a seat to an older person, when you join the school community to support kids in training football or you are expressing your views at ecological manifest. The leader you will become will affect all your actions and thoughts going forward. Shape your leadership style wisely then, with time it will become your lifestyle – leadership lifestyle.
“The things that make me different are the things that make me’.