I turned 39 last week and realized something: I’ve spent more than half of my life in leadership roles.
I’ve been fortunate to learn from a variety of leaders in many contexts each lead our teams to different degrees of success….some lead with excellence and others struggled with the demands of the role. As a leader myself, I lead well in some situations but was also immature and ineffective at others.
I have been thinking about the lessons I would tell my 19-year-old self about leadership to help me be more effective and embrace the journey in a more mature way.
Here are the top 5 things I’d tell myself:
1. Always treat people as people. People aren’t lifeless chess pieces to move around on a board. Trust is lost forever when we treat people as objects. Do whatever you can to honor the humanity of others, especially in times of conflict.
2. Invest in your unique strengths and style. You only get one life, don’t spend it trying to be like other leaders or doing things you don’t enjoy. You’ll be a lot happier if you discover your strengths and stick to roles where they can blossom. Find ways to develop them and use them to serve others.
3. Embrace people who see the world differently. These people will help you grow, do better work, and expand your worldview. Other people are just as strong in their strengths as you are in yours. So when you make room for others, everybody wins.
4. Your title isn’t important…influence matters most. You don’t need a title to influence others. In some cases, your role/title/position can even get in the way of real influence. Use your influence to encourage and inspire others no matter your title may be.
5. Trust your gut. Your intuition was given to you for a reason. Don’t talk yourself into decisions that look good on paper when you don’t ‘feel’ like it’s the right thing. Have confidence in saying, “I have to follow my gut on this decision.” For better or worse, this is part of being a leader!
The number one lesson I learned as a follower: Leadership is hard and every leader fights feelings of failure, doubt, and exhaustion. Being critical of leaders is a waste of time and often comes from your own angst. Either get on board or leave. If you choose to stay, use your influence to help your leaders. The decisions a leader makes are often more nuanced and difficult than you know.
I hope this is helpful as you process your leadership and/or those you follow. If you’re interested in seeing a handful of the books which have influenced me, you can check those out here.
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