Leadership Insights

learning to be a leader

Learning to be a Leader

I was recently reminded of the expression, “You have to be willing to be bad at something before you can be good at it.”

So, I wondered, ‘does that apply to leadership too?’ 

It sure does! 

All too often, leaders get their title and position because they were good at their last job. But, their last job was about getting results and being rewarded for exceeding and bettering themselves.  It wasn’t people leadership. Yet, we expect them to know how to do it right out of the gate. Why? Because we assume that when someone is good at one thing, they must be good at everything else. 

But it doesn’t work like that. 

Transitioning from one role to another, especially when that move is from a tactical position to a leadership position, requires a new language, changed relationships, and skills that haven’t previously been learned. Sure you can throw them to the wolves and see who survives, or you can be a good leader yourself and provide them with the training and resources they need to succeed!

Consider the story of Mary

This is a true story. Mary is a fashion designer based out of California. When asked what a mistake she has learned from, here’s what Mary said:

“I have made lots of mistakes, and I hope I’ve learned from all of them. One in particular is that I hired someone because she is smart and works hard, and then gave her a huge project – one that I didn’t even know how to do myself – and assured she could figure it out. She couldn’t but was embarrassed about it and didn’t let me know, so it wasn’t until things started falling through the cracks that I realized she wasn’t doing a good job. So, the first mistake was setting unrealistic expectations and having no oversight. The second mistake was getting angry when the facade crumbled, revealing months worth of mess. Getting angry did nothing for the problem and damaged our relationship. It took a long time to recover from that mistake —both because of the underlying mess and because of the damage to the relationship. The success, though difficult, I learned that I can’t just dump projects on anyone – no matter how smart or skilled. More importantly, I had to learn to control my reaction to anger. Ultimately, I a was a better leader because of the failure, but I’m sorry that I had to learn that on a live person.”

Source: In the Company of Women, by Grace Bonney

So what do we do?

Does all of this mean that Mary shouldn’t have hired or trusted this person in the first place. Absolutely not! 

It does mean that when we hire and promote people, we also need to invest in them and help them develop a skills set that sets everyone up for success. Leadership skills, like most things, have a certain level of ‘born with it’, but nobody has it all figured out. 

Leadership development provides a new lens with which to look at the same problems. It helps the new leader shape their thinking around strategy, people, and processes, instead of just checking a task off of a list. 

Learned Leadership Competencies

There are certain leadership competencies that need to be learned. Some learn them through watching others, personal experience, and practice. Others need to be taught. Regardless of whether or not these competencies can be learned on one’s own time and with one’s own effort, the learning curve can be expedited when we do it through training programs.

Let’s take a look at some of the common shifts that people need to make when transitioning into leadership roles:

  • From managing your own time to reallocating time to not only complete your own work but helping to align the work of others
  • From thinking only about your own work to considering the interdependencies of multiple people and departments
  • From solving problems to enabling others to solve their own problems
  • From tactical to strategic
  • From avoiding challenging conversations to having daily conversations that require honest feedback
  • From utilizing their personal preferences for communication to adapting their communication style to others

There are plenty more of these shifts, but you get the picture. Making shifts like these are easy for some and really hard for others. 

Fully Customized Leadership Development Programs

The best leadership training programs are customized to align with your company’s values, needs, and vision for growth. We are honored to have 4 new clients who are designing customized, world-class Leadership Development programs that enable their leaders to support the culture and the strategy of the business.  And, each person is set up for success from the start. 

If you want to talk about what a custom leadership development program for your organization might look like, set up a call!

We’d love to explore that a program designed just for you can do for your people and your business!