When it comes to landing the first leadership role, people have often told me they’re as excited as they are terrified to take the wheel. Excited, because there’s so much possibility and opportunity; terrified because, well…what button do you press to make leadership work?!
For those of us who have been leaders for some time, it can feel like ‘second nature’ in the same way that driving a car becomes no big deal after a while. But we forget how it was when we were just starting out. Whether it was trying to figure out the gear box, or how to communicate to a team for the first time, we all know those moments of nervous self-doubt in the beginning.
Leadership can be a daunting role. As the saying goes, it’s lonely at the top. At the same time, it can be incredibly rewarding – especially when you have a great team around you like I do.
Stepping into your first leadership role, you’ll no doubt be aware that there are many definitions of what it means to be a leader. In truth, there’s no definitive idea of leadership, because we all bring unique qualities to the role as well as share some common traits. From Alexander the Great to Malala Yousafzai, leaders come in all shapes and sizes, ideals, values and perspectives.
What most of us share is the desire to make a meaningful difference in some way. Whether in the office or wider society, the role of a leader is one that has enormous potential to affect people’s lives. It’s a position that should be taken seriously, but also one that shows a human side that connects with and relates to others. Leadership might be a serious business, but we shouldn’t take ourselves too seriously.
Here, I’d like to share a few insights that will help young professionals ease into the role of leader:
1. Give yourself time to grow
As a new leader, you’ll want to ‘make your mark’ and show that you’re worthy of your role. That’s a normal desire that everyone has in any new position. However, it is wise to avoid rushing the process. Like any learning experience, slow and steady wins the race.
Instead of laying down rules or making sweeping changes, spend some time getting to know and understand people – and let them get to know who you are. Building relationships is the most crucial quality in leadership, and you’ll need people to be on your side if you want to achieve anything.
Look at some examples of resonant leaders and see how they interact with others and engage with the process of leadership. You’ll see that the greatest leaders (e.g. Abraham Lincoln, Nelson Mandela) are thoughtful and patient, rather than rash and careless.
You may be interested in: Lessons in Growth
2. Question your assumptions
If you’ve been in your organisation for five or ten or more years, it’s likely that you’ll feel you know everything. You know the people and the business, you’ve gone through the process, and you’ve watched all the good TED Talks. One of the biggest mistakes you can make in leadership is believing that you know it all and that no-one has anything to teach you.
In truth, every fresh graduate that has come into Leaderonomics has taught me so much, and I’ve been grateful to be a part of this reverse mentoring process. As a leader, you know what you know – but everyone else around you will know something you don’t.
Rather than viewing yourself as a fountain of wisdom, it’s better to question what you think you know and see yourself as a lifelong student who’s open to learning from everyone.
3. Believe in yourself
On the flipside to questioning yourself (which will keep your conceits in check), it’s necessary to believe in yourself. Being in this position demonstrates that you have something of value to offer your organisation or business, and so it’s important to recognise that you’re a leader for a reason. This might sound counter-intuitive – didn’t I just say avoid being a know-it-all? – But there’s a difference between self-belief and arrogance.
Read also: New Leaders: Avoid These 6 Common Pitfalls
An arrogant leader feels he has nothing more to learn and everything to offer; a leader with self-belief knows his limits, but also understands his potential and believes in his capacity to develop, grow and learn to be a leader that others are proud to follow.
4. Find a mentor
This is something many new leaders neglect – but it’s what all leaders, regardless of their experience, continue to benefit greatly from. No matter how far ahead you are in leadership, there are those farther ahead who have wrestled with the challenges you face and know how to overcome them.
Mentors can offer fresh perspectives, helpful guidance, and provide a steady hand in your personal and professional growth – these are just a few reasons why it’s important to have a mentor, especially when you’re starting out on your leadership journey.
5. Thank people
In leadership, we often believe that the big things (vision, strategy, mission) make the difference, but oftentimes it’s the smallest gestures that make the greatest impact. Without dedicated, committed people to deliver the results needed to achieve success, leaders would be unable to realise any vision or mission they have in mind.
It’s impossible to overstate the importance of thanking others for what they do. Whether it’s taking the team out for lunch, celebrating birthdays, or even just a simple practice of saying ‘thanks for doing a great job’, the value of recognition is enormous in terms of boosting morale and engagement, and strengthening bonds within the team.