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Critical Lessons in Becoming A Leader

As I ascended the corporate and entrepreneurial career ladder, my leadership journey included advancing through several organizational roles. The entrepreneurial roller coaster highlighted many hard lessons and challenges by teaching me that effective leadership requires increased self-awareness and authenticity. However, one of my greatest lessons was learning that my leadership style is heavily influenced by how I treat others and show up for myself. As such, I’ve found it helpful to reflect on my tenure and my insight into effective leadership.

Although my eventful path to leadership is full of memories rivaling the length and action of the Harry Potter anthology, my leadership path has included all of the following:

  • Humor

  • Mystery

  • Predictability

  • Sadness

  • Suspense

  • Tragedy

Thus, after navigating both horrific and outstanding leadership scenarios, I’ve learned the true tenets of effective leadership focus on being inclusive of your:

  • Business environment

  • Company culture

  • Organizational needs

  • Team qualities

Consistently considering these factors will ensure you are a successful and respected leader.

Person-Centric Leadership

Having led diverse teams of individuals with varying experience levels, skillsets, and capabilities, I’ve learned the level of employee supervision needed may also vary. From this diversity, I realized I couldn’t manage everyone equally. For example, although not everyone required a micromanagement style, some employees thrived under closer supervision and guidance.

I became a more effective leader, and my team was happier when I learned to adjust my leadership style based on their individual needs. However, managing the complexities of different personalities requires tremendous effort. Nevertheless, I’ve been able to do so by cultivating trust, respect, and loyalty, which are paramount for leadership and organizational effectiveness.

Lead Authentically Through Self-Awareness

Authentically understanding, embracing, and displaying your true self is critical in building and sustaining genuine relationships. You maximize opportunities to manage your emotions and how you present as a leader by examining your strengths and weaknesses and acknowledging your vulnerabilities. These practices are critical to demonstrating emotional intelligence (EI) and enhancing awareness of blind spots and biases. Not addressing these factors can adversely affect your relationships with:

  • Departments and teams

  • Organizational mission, vision, and culture

  • Peers and colleagues

Self-awareness leads to many positive outcomes, such as:

  • Being conscious of the needs of others

  • Displaying humility

  • Creating a safe space for your teams to demonstrate authenticity and honesty

Although self-awareness can be uncomfortable, messy, and possibly anxiety-inducing, avoiding this work by placing pride ahead of growth will undoubtedly stifle your success as a leader.

Manage Your Team, Not Your Trauma

As I attempted to juggle numerous leadership responsibilities, I found myself requesting products from my team within regrettably short deadlines so I could meet my own deliverables. Eventually, I noticed an increase in vacation requests, overtime submissions, and team conflict. Before approaching the team, I reflected on my contributions to the chaos. Then, I asked myself two questions:

"Am I pushing the short turnaround times because it's required for a critical deadline?”

“Am I uncomfortable with the number of priorities on my plate that I’m unwilling to push back on, which is causing me to force my team to share in this discomfort?"

These challenging and necessary questions made me realize the answer was the latter. However, I became a better leader through self-work, therapy, and my continued leadership journey.

All Employees Are Not Leaders

Many leaders are elevated to their roles because they have demonstrated technical proficiency within their areas of expertise. However, once achieving a leadership role, leaders aren’t evaluated as individual contributors. Instead, success is determined by the performance of their team and its contributions to the overall organization. Therefore, continually developing soft skills is critical.

Unfortunately, organizations send misleading messages when a leader's soft skills are not improved, but they continue to ascend within the hierarchy. This concern is especially relevant for organizations committed to diversity, equity, inclusion, belonging, and other sustainability goals. Leadership will inevitably fail when an organization touts values not reflected or modeled in those advancing the corporate ladder. Therefore, use a multifaceted evaluation process to ensure the attributes of all leadership candidates align with organizational values.

Being a leader requires humility and emotional intelligence. Employees need and deserve empathetic leaders who are invested in the success of their teams.

Don’t worry! It’s not too late to improve your leadership skills by demonstrating self-awareness, authenticity, person-centric leadership, and a balanced, inclusive approach to promotion. Leadership is a journey, not a destination.

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