Many people ask me, “How did you get to be a leader?”
“How do you know the difference between management and leadership?”
“Where can I find the best mentor?”
The truth is, it has taken many lessons for me to be able to reach a point in my leadership journey where I can be sincerely honest with myself and others about my natural strengths and weaknesses. Through my professional and personal life, I have learned a lot about what works and what doesn’t, and ultimately what earns respect from both people and organisations, as well as what doesn’t.
This article is the first in our new ‘Women in Leadership’ series, sharing insights from leaders around New Zealand on how we became leaders, what leadership means to us and leadership is and what to do to when planning your own leadership journey.
Are Leaders Born or Made?
There are many paths available to becoming a leader, but none of them will be easy. You will encounter both success and failure, and from this you will learn to adapt. However, some things are just inherent. You may find that you have had certain traits and attributes from a young age, whether that’s people naturally gravitating towards you or your own instinctual desire to be a leader.
The quest to answer the question “Does one learn to be a leader or is one born a leader?” has stumped countless researchers. In my experience I have discovered that while for some it is entirely learned, and for others it all comes naturally, for most it’s a combination of both.
Some will have learned everything they know by proudly wearing the stripes of experience. Others may have benefited from being surrounded by the right mentors and coaches at the right time. Moreover, many a lesson is learned from working under or being led by people who were lacking great leadership skills. Often, learning what not to do is just as valuable as being shown the right way.
The Art & Science of Leading Others
For me the greatest learning experience in my own personal journey was discovering that the leadership of others can only exist in collaboration with self-leadership. Taking ownership of one’s own self-development, one’s own actions and one’s own perpetual desire to be better, is essential to becoming a good leader. Without first being able to lead and be accountable for yourself, you will never be able to master the science of leading others.
I also learned that one leadership style is not going to be a perfect fit for all. It is a cliché, but that doesn’t make it any less true. No one person will have the same desires, motivations and drivers as another, which means you cannot cater to everyone using the same methods. However, even when your methods aren’t effective on an individual, it’s important to stay committed to your people and adapt your methods to their needs.
As a leader, it’s key to be consistent in your fairness, values and integrity. This means truly connecting with and understanding each and every person reporting to you, in a way that expresses how much you want them to be the best they can be. Leading a team is about taking them on a journey with a common goal; striving to achieve excellence, pride and success in both your team and its individuals.
Stay Humble Yet Firm
I quickly learnt that leadership is about humility and gratitude, not being arrogant and self-serving. A great leader recognises that it is the people they serve that makes them a leader - not their title. Humility leads on to courage, which you will need in order to be authentic and accountable to your team. Your authenticity and accountability will help you and those you lead get through the tough moments.
At times, people will attempt to undermine you and your reputation to achieve their own agendas. In the face of this adversity, your courage will build your resilience. In these situations, it’s crucial to lead by example and confront issues by being open and honest. I have discovered that honesty is by far the best policy. People want the truth, and being truthful in leadership cannot be undermined.
It’s important to build one’s knowledge by being open to learning every day, but understand that you cannot know everything. Be humble and appreciate that your team may end up knowing more than you do. Everyone has a role, and as a leader your responsibility is to know enough to lead your team and identify when to make important decisions.
Reliability Equals Respect
Decision making and one’s ability to set goals in order to forge a plan is key to being a great leader. Each member of your team should have a tailored personal development plan, which will empower you to challenge your people to grow. Make sure you stick to this plan and complete everything you promised to do. Being reliable enough to see things through is another important pillar of leadership, and people respect leaders who are committed to finishing what they start. When circumstances change and you are unable to deliver what you promised, then you have to be up front and transparent when you communicate the reasons why.
Another important lesson I have learnt throughout my journey in leadership is that, whilst the title of Manager gives you permission to “manage” your team, the greatest challenge of being a leader is tapping into your team’s hearts and minds and earning their permission to be led by you, trusting you know what’s best for them. Knowing and understanding your team is the cornerstone of building a connection and gaining that respect.
Throughout my whole journey, what I have learned above all else is that whether you are empowered to lead or born to be a leader, leadership exists within your heart and mind. When you truly believe that you are privileged to be leading others to the best of your ability, so that others can reach the best of theirs, that is when you know that you belong as a leader.
Every leader has had a journey to get to where they are today, and no one journey is the same. In the coming weeks, we will be talking to women in leadership roles throughout New Zealand about their personal and professional journeys through leadership. Stay tuned for their unique and valuable insight into what leadership is for them, how they managed to become leaders and what advice they would give to those looking to take the first steps of their own journey.
If you think you’ve got a great story to tell please feel free to get in touch.