Featured Resource: Leadership Principles
There’s a lot we have to learn, and hopefully the following list will serve as a starting point for you as you navigate what it takes to be a leader worth following. I have been fortunate to be part of Leadercast’s content team for the past three years and have learned a lot about leadership along the way. Here are eight nuggets of wisdom I’ve discovered over the years about leadership that are essential for new leaders to understand:
- Know what it means to be a leader. As leadership expert John Maxwell says, “Leadership is influence—nothing more, nothing less.” As a leader, you have the greatest amount of influence compared to those who report to you. How can you leverage that influence, in addition to your talents, to help your team members do their jobs better? Check in with your team members often and ask, “How can I help?” Strive to be a servant leader and understand your leadership isn’t all about you.
- Be intentional about developing your soft skills. Growing as a leader is a lifelong journey, and that’s especially true with growing your soft skills. Emotional intelligence, empathy, effective communication and the ability to problem-solve (to name a few) won’t come to you overnight, but they are key to being the kind of leader others will follow. While self-awareness is a soft skill in and of itself, it is critical in developing your interpersonal skills. Be aware of yourself and how you interact with others. Set up feedback loops to gain honest critique from those above and below you to learn your blind spots. If you want to go the extra mile, get a coach who can help you grow your weak areas.
- Embrace failure. As a new leader, it can be tough to admit when you fall short on a project or goal. At Leadercast 2017—Powered by Purpose, speaker Molly Fletcher explained that in order to be fearless as a leader, you have to have the courage to take ownership in moments when you do something wrong.
In addition to admitting mistakes, great leaders approach failure as a learning opportunity (as Thomas Edison, creator of the lightbulb, said, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”) Look at the positives in your failures by assessing what you learned through the process and how you’ll approach things differently moving forward. Understand that without a healthy relationship with failure, you’ll have a hard time taking risks that lead to innovation and propel your organization forward.
- Strive for clarity. Without clarity, your team is essentially operating in a fog—they won’t know what actions to take to achieve the organization’s mission, vision and goals. They’ll also have a hard time navigating change, which you, as a leader, should embrace. As author Karen Martin details in her book, “Clarity First,” teams need clarity from leaders in five key areas: purpose, priorities, process, performance and problem-solving. Figure out the areas in which your team members need more clarity by creating a culture of openness and by asking for feedback.
- Seek diversity. “If you have homogeneous thought at your decision-making table, you will have a gap in your go-to-market strategy,” shared Carla Harris, vice chairman and managing director of Morgan Stanley, at Leadercast 2019—Leading Healthy Teams. If you want to be innovative, you need a lot of ideas, and that comes from having a lot of different perspectives collaborating for a common goal. Seek insights from people who have a very different background from your own and build a team that brings multiple perspectives and viewpoints to the table.
- Delegate, but don’t micromanage. Balancing the two can feel like you’re walking on a tightrope. New managers often struggle to let go of the tasks they were once in charge of or expect others to approach the job in the same way they did. Be mindful of this as you let go of responsibilities to take on new ones, and fight the urge to hold onto tasks because you think it would be faster or easier for you to do it. Part of being a leader is challenging the people below you to grow in their skills, and they won’t have the opportunity to do that if you don’t delegate.
To get better at delegation and leveraging your team, there are two fundamental questions you can ask, according to HBR:
- “Where does my team need me to direct my time and energy to add the greatest value to my team’s performance?”
- “What skills do I need my team to have to be able to accomplish our goals?”
- Have a system of accountability in place. We millennials are the generation that wants flexibility and work-from-home options, but there needs to be structure in place to measure performance and productivity (product management tools like monday.com and Trello are great resources if you haven’t tried them already). In his talk at Leadercast 2017—Powered by Purpose, speaker Dr. Henry Cloud described the anatomy of accountability as consisting of the following:
- Clear, positive expectations that are mutually agreed upon
- Having some way of defining when those expectations will be met
- Asking, “How are we going to inspect it?”
- And, “How are we going to communicate along the way so there are no surprises?”
- Be a student. Leadership and learning go hand in hand, so you won’t go very far as a leader if you don’t absorb as much information as you can about the subject. “You are a composite of the books you read, the people you meet and the places you go,” says educator and researcher Steve Franklin in an interview with Leadercast. “You’d better go meet everybody you can, go to every seminar you can, take every class you can, read every book and article you can on leadership.”
Moreover, be a student of those around you. Learn all you can about your people so you can lead them to the best of your ability, and pay attention to the actions of the leaders before you and around you to avoid their mistakes and gain wisdom for their successes.
The leadership journey is one that takes a lifetime. You’ll fail along the way, and you’ll win along the way, too. But as you grow, pay your leadership forward. Just as those before you mentored and coached through your journey, you too should pass that knowledge on to the next generation of leaders. As Andy Stanley writes in his book, “Next Generation Leader”: “In leadership, success is succession. If someone coming along behind me is not able to take what I have offered and build on it, then I have failed in my responsibility to the next generation.”
Leadership is an endless cycle that builds within each generation. Be a learner. Be self-aware. Be intentional about implementing what you learn to your own leadership. Be a mentor and coach and share your wealth of knowledge. In doing so, you’ll be well on your way to being a leader worth following.
*What advice would you add to this list for millennials entering leadership? Tell us on Twitter at #Leadercast.