People often ask me if I enjoy being a senior leader in my organisation and my answer is consistently yes! However, although leadership is an amazing experience, giving you the opportunity to shape and influence an organisation and turn a vision into reality, leadership is also hard, and people often harbour unrealistic expectations about what is involved.
Here are some things you should consider about leadership – before becoming a leader:
The Physical And Emotional Costs Of Leadership
One of my favourite parts of being a senior leader, is travelling to meet other people across the country. The visits are an opportunity to soak up knowledge while inspiring others and passing on key messages. But the travelling, being away from home, constantly jumping from train to hotel to train again – and burning the midnight oil to prepare for the follow day’s presentation – can be exhausting.
While the physical cost of leadership can be mitigated with strong personal discipline and good time management, the emotional costs are more difficult to predict. Unintended conflicts, being let down, having to take on extra work to support a colleague – these can all take their toll.
Human relations can be the hardest part of leadership; from disappointing friends to giving difficult feedback. Strong people skills and high emotional intelligence will help, but even this can only do so much. So be prepared for the strains that leadership will inevitably bring.
Be Prepared To Build On Your Strengths – And Your Weaknesses
We all bring skills and knowledge to the leadership table – most of which will be useful in some shape or form. So, being good with numbers will help you make certain decisions; if you’re good with people, this will help bonding with your peers and your team; if you’re good at communication, your ideas will gain traction faster than would otherwise be the case.
You may not have all the skills that your role requires but, in some situations, you’ll have the opportunity to leverage your strengths into super strengths which, in turn, will mitigate your weaknesses. Despite this, it’s likely that, at some, point you’ll need to step-up and embrace new tasks and learn new skills.
Attitude Over Aptitude
While you might be fantastic at communicating with others, generating new ideas, or developing detailed strategies by analysing information, you’ll find you’re judged more on your attitude towards your role than on your skills.
Most of us are juggling leadership roles with other areas of our life and time is often at a premium – we can feel we don’t have time to deal with certain queries, or perhaps we feel swamped by a ‘problem’ that has landed on our desk. Attitude is about the way you tackle these challenges and constraints; it’s about how you approach your role and take on its responsibilities.
So if you’re quite laidback and find it hard to be very responsive when communicating, you will need to become more proactive in everything you do. The impact of not responding to a message, missing a deadline or delaying making a decision can be huge. But worse than that, it can impact on people’s belief and trust in you as a leader. If your behaviour demonstrates a poor attitude towards your role, then disillusion and disengagement will follow.
Jumping into a new role or situation with both feet forward will definitely help you, regardless of your abilities. These days, mountains of information on any subject are readily available, so use the resources to plug any knowledge gap and find out more about your role and your task. Waiting a few months and saying “I’m just getting started” will not make a great impression and may impact the quality of your leadership. If you chose to lead, make some commitments to yourself and accept the weight of expectations placed upon you.
Devil’s In The Detail
The grand visions, the speeches, meetings with colleagues, inspiring and motivating your team, seeing your vision realised are the visible parts of leadership – but behind this lies hundreds, if not thousands, of hours work, often spent on tiny details that may not seem important to a casual observer.
In my corporate strategy days, I spent a lot of time looking for first-hand sources of information and double checking it afterwards. What’s more, a colleague would check my work once I was done and edits and reworks almost always followed. The process took time and wasn’t always rewarding. However, it was worth it as the result was fantastic documents that our senior leadership team used to drive the business forward.
Number-crunching and information gathering is a big part of strategic leadership. Small details, like how something is worded, can be of great importance when developing organisation-wide policy and protocols. But remember, there is a line between too much detail and not focusing on detail at all. And avoid reinventing the wheel; try to understand what was done before and why before you make wholesale changes.
With some insight into the challenges that being a leader can bring, should you embark on the leadership journey? Only you know the answer to this question. Personally, I don’t regret the decision; the journey has been an eventful one and isn’t even over yet. I’ve grown along the way and become a better person, as a result. Being a leader can be highly rewarding and may even be the best thing you ever do in your professional life.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Florian Bay is District 91 Director of Toastmasters International, a not-for-profit organisation that has provided communication and leadership skills since 1924 through a worldwide network of clubs.
There are more than 400 clubs and 10,000 members in the UK and Ireland. Members follow a structured educational programme to gain skills and confidence in public and impromptu speaking, chairing meetings and time management.
To find your nearest club, visit www.toastmasters.org