As a leadership facilitator, I often reflect on my early career days when I asked myself, ‘What do I know about managing and leading people?’ I remember feeling overwhelmed and lacking confidence in my decisions as a leader. However, over the years, I have come to understand that many leaders question their skills and abilities, especially early on in their careers.
I started my career as a physiotherapist. I loved working with people, but I realized that I wanted to be part of creating systemic change and working toward social justice. After completing a Master’s degree, I was offered a special opportunity to set up and lead a project to support young people in East Africa to claim their sexual and reproductive health and rights. The project was very successful, and soon, I started hiring people, and the team grew quickly. I had to upskill: gaining valuable technical skills in a short period of time; with one exception: how do I deal with people? As a conflict-avoidant and self-critical introvert, I struggled dealing with people and constantly questioned my choices, thinking I wasn’t good enough.
Today, I understand that becoming a good and positive leader is possible. In my conversations with many leaders at various career stages, I’ve learned that many people feel exactly like I did: self-conscious, insecure, and alone. This takes energy and efficiency away from getting the work done, which is bad for the leader and their teams. Thankfully, as complex as leadership is, becoming a good and positive leader is possible. And no better time than now to get started on this journey!
Here are three things I wish I had known in my early leadership days:
Leadership isn’t management
Leadership and management are fundamentally different. While project management tools may guide the work and keep it on track, leadership skills will help ensure that the people moving the work through the stages do this skillfully and to the best of their abilities.
This means having a deep understanding of who to delegate things to, how to motivate people, and how to use your team members’ strengths to the team’s and their advantage.
Leadership requires vulnerability
To lead people effectively, retain talent, minimize burnout, and keep people’s well-being in mind; a leader needs to connect with their employees. This requires authenticity and vulnerability. Only by bringing our whole, authentic, fallible selves to work can we expect the same from others. And that is what you need to build trusting and dependable relationships in a professional setting. Opening up, admitting to (and celebrating!) failure, and showing your lesser strengths are essential to being a good, positive leader. As hard as it may sometimes be, those autocratic, emotionless lawyers we see on Netflix are not the best example!
Feeling lost is normal
Many leaders feel lost, lonely, and burnt out, especially in the early stages of their careers. However, everyone can learn to lead with skills and tools. If we are open about our struggles with other leaders, mentors, or colleagues, it becomes obvious that we are not the only ones struggling with these feelings.
If you want to learn more about what I learned as an early-stage leader, and pick up valuable lessons and tools, check out our Foundations of Positive Leadership course. Sign up today to meet people to exchange thoughts and ideas with!