I’m of a certain vintage that, growing up, leadership was pretty much defined in one way – you must be loud, authoritative, and decisive. That was it. One mould. Not me.
My relationship with leadership did not get off on the right foot.
Today, thankfully, this isn’t always the case. There are many brilliant organisations that allow leaders of all shapes, sizes, and styles to do their thing. To be empathetic, to be inclusive, to be expressive, to lean on others, to be vulnerable. Most importantly for me, to take time to grow.
Don’t force it
I consider myself extremely lucky to have grown into a leadership position at my current agency Harvard with the support of strong leaders around me. I must have been an absolute sh*tbag to deal with at times – frustrated, angry, setting my stall out against the world. Sorry to all affected.
In time I have settled and had some fantastic coaching from Ellie, my CEO, and Chinedu, my mentor. They have breathed a sense of cool and calm, constructiveness and conviction, into what could be an eruptive persona. I’m hugely grateful that Chinedu has in fact continued our relationship beyond the initial period agreed as part of The Xec. programme.
Whether you’re putting pressure on yourself to flourish as a leader quickly, or feel like you’re fighting against leadership around you, I think it’s so important not to force the transition. Some people settle into leadership roles very quickly and easily, and for some of us it takes a little more time.
And that’s OK.
I understand people are motivated by different things, but for me personally it was only letting go of the tension that I started to embrace my role. I sometimes look back and cringe – like when I sat slumped as low as possible in a chair in a management meeting and grunted some expletives about resourcing. Not helpful, not cool, not nice. And definitely not reflective of the person I am.
If that reminds you of yourself, then please remember – there is no race, and once you do settle into that leadership role, you’ll still have plenty to work on and plenty of questions to answer.
Support and structure
Aside from taking the time you need, I have a couple of suggestions to keep you sane, hungry, and motivated.
Firstly, ask for help. Not to be stereotypical, but… (always a good way to start a sentence) I am a man, and asking for help isn’t always easy. Get used to it. It’s so difficult to make it without the support of others.
Emotional support from trusted colleagues and loved ones, professional guidance from mentors and leaders, constructive feedback from your teams. Lap it up, ask for it, and learn from it. Seek solace in the words and support of those around you.
Secondly, seek to define your leadership. Think long and hard about what leadership means to you. What are the behaviours you want to exhibit? How do you want people to perceive you? Which leaders do you aspire to be like? Writing this down and having a clear picture of this will help you maintain your own vision of your leadership and align your behaviours accordingly.
The journey continues
I have wrestled with my leadership so many times as I’ve “grown up” – it’s why I have such a love/hate relationship with it. But now I’m here, I’m so much more settled and happier for the tumultuous journey I’ve been on. I hope my colleagues would agree!
In this context, just remember that even once you’ve finally embraced your leadership role… you’ve more than likely got decades of work left to go.
Yes, that’s daunting, but it’s also a good reminder that you’ve got plenty of time to get your leadership right for you.