By Kenon Man, Deputy Director of Marketing, University of Nottingham – 28th February 2022
Leadership is a fascinating journey; some might say alluring, complex and misunderstood. At all levels of an organisation, many people still misunderstand its concepts, expectations, and the effort required to practice the art.
I would like to share and invite comments on three things that I’ve observed so far in my leadership journey that aren’t usually discussed.
Leadership is thankless… mostly
It can be easy to be swept away by the notion that leadership is all about being adored and having an expectation or a given right to be thanked for your efforts – the painful truth is that all the behind-the-scenes work often goes unnoticed.
A few years ago, I was seeking continuous recognition for getting through a tough year and I felt so let down and angry that I wasn’t recognised at an internal awards ceremony – I know, right? Who was I? What a diva!
To release me from my disappointment, I had to change my mindset, reevaluate what leadership meant and learn to find what success meant to me. The moment I started to explore my personal values and align my efforts against those values, I quickly found the thanks and reward that I was looking for. I began to appreciate the marginal gains, enjoy seeing my team’s achievements, and if you ever read Berne’s Transactional Analysis, develop a more ‘adult’ mindset.
You have to get used to the fact that good leadership is typically not noticed and maybe not ever rewarded. If you approach leadership as a selfish act, then it is thankless, but if you approach it from within yourself, you’ll find your own unique wins and rewards.
Importance of internal communications
I’m quickly discovering internal comms is a key discipline to manage and develop and I’m surprised how little discussion there is around its importance in leadership. There is a mountain of information on engaging with external audiences, yet internal communications tend to be secondary or even an afterthought.
As my responsibilities broaden, I’m finding leadership is all about internal communications. You’d be mistaken to think that internal comms is just a weekly staff newsletter, but as a leader, you must develop your own style to tell a thoughtful, authentic, and consistent story via verbal and non-verbal engagement.
Engaging with internal audiences requires care and attention, and more importantly, it takes time to craft a piece of content, especially if it’s related to any critical changes. I’ve learnt from experience not to be flippant or blasé about communicating with teams because leadership is not about you, and I think it’s disrespectful not to consider the impact of your message.
Leading in the grey area
Another aspect that I had to get used to was to be comfortable in the ‘grey area’.
It comes as no surprise that there are times when you must deliver, or what’s even more challenging, communicate something that you know needs to be done but don’t know how to get there.
You might find comfort in the fact that most leaders are ‘making this sh*t up’ as they go, and for obvious reputational reasons, it’s something that leaders don’t tend to share or talk about often.
Working in the grey is not easy. I’ve been pushed and challenged numerous times to give definitive answers when there were none to give at that time. When being challenged, you can suddenly feel very vulnerable and exposed – even more so if you don’t fit into the classic leader stereotype. It’s in those moments where you think that you must give an answer or a promise which can result in further conflict later down the line if it’s not the right call.
As a leader, you must be empathetic as people will react to uncertainty differently at different times, and it’s helpful to remind yourself about what is in your control. Of course, you will be flooded with demands and even judgements, but I’ve found that the most helpful tactic when you don’t know all the answers is to focus on communicating little and often about what the next steps are.
Change and uncertainty have become a familiar setting for me over the past two years, however, I’ve found great personal benefits from being comfortable with uncertainty, such as continuously building confidence and resilience. In addition, the process has helped ground me as a leader in the here and now because you focus on the smaller milestones rather than passing unproductive worry and uncertainty onto your team.
Find your own pace and rhythm
Leadership is a rollercoaster, and finding your own consistent rhythm and pace is key to developing leadership skills. Leadership is tough. Many articles talk about sacrifice, which I think is a bit dramatic. I don’t think it is sacrifice, but it’s a process of learning about yourself and your values and merging them into your practice to find your own unique path.
Kenon was awarded a place on The Xec. Leadership Scheme for UK-based Black, Asian, Mixed Race and Ethnic Minority PR and comms pros. He will be mentored by Claire Johnson-Tusinska, Director of Ethicon Communications & Public Affairs, EMEA at Johnson & Johnson Medical Devices.