Get to grips with the challenges of leadership before becoming a leader says Florian Bay
How do you feel about taking on a leadership role? Leadership can be an amazing experience – giving you opportunities to shape an organisation and, perhaps more nobly, to turn a vision into reality. You may feel that moving from your current role into one of leadership will be hard. It is true that many people have unrealistic expectations about what is involved.
Let’s look at what you need to know about leadership – before taking it on, within your current department, or professional association or elsewhere.
1. You will be tested and stretched
Nobody comes to leadership completely unprepared. We all have skills and knowledge – most of which will be useful in some way. However, you may not have all the skills that your role requires. It’s likely that at some point you’ll need to embrace new tasks and learn new skills.
It’s also likely that, as part of your leadership journey, you’ll learn a few home truths. For me, the biggest discovery was that I perhaps wasn’t as organised or structured as I thought I was. Structure and organisation matter a lot in leadership, especially when it comes to execution.
2. Your attitude to the challenges will be crucial
You might be great at communicating with others, generating new ideas, or developing detailed strategies by analysing information – but you’ll be judged more on your attitude towards your role than on your skills.
Most of us are juggling leadership roles with other areas of our life and time is often at a premium. Attitude is about the way you tackle the challenges and constraints; it’s about how you approach your role and its responsibilities.
For example, if you’re somebody who takes things cautiously and finds it hard to be very responsive when communicating, you’ll rapidly need to become more proactive in everything you do. The impact of, say, delaying making a decision can be huge. But worse than that, it can impact on people’s belief and trust in you as a leader.
If you chose to lead, fully commit and accept the weight of expectations placed upon you.
3. You will need to get to grips with the detail
The visible parts of leadership are the grand visions, the speeches, meetings with colleagues, inspiring and motivating your team, seeing your vision realised – but behind this lies hundreds, if not thousands, of hours of work, often spend discussing tiny details that may not seem important to a casual observer.
Number-crunching and information gathering is a big part of strategic leadership. Small details, like how something is worded, can be of great importance when developing organisation-wide policy and protocols. But remember, there is a line between too much detail and not focusing on detail at all. And avoid reinventing the wheel; try to understand what was done before and why before you make wholesale changes.
4. There can be costs – both physical and emotional
Travelling is often part of leadership in organisations. But being away from home and burning the midnight oil to prepare for the following day’s presentation can be exhausting.
While the physical cost of leadership can be mitigated with strong personal discipline and good time management, the emotional costs are more difficult to predict. Unintended conflicts, being let down, having to take on extra work to support a colleague, can all take their toll. Decision-making fatigue is another problem – sometimes even having to decide what to have for dinner can seem like one decision too many! So, make a commitment to look after yourself.
Human relations can be the hardest part of leadership, from disappointing friends to giving difficult feedback. Strong people skills and high emotional intelligence help, but even this can only do so much. Be prepared for the strains that leadership will bring.
Only you know how you feel about leadership and whether you are ready for the challenges. However, as with many things in life preparing yourself can open the door to what may turn out to be the best decision of your life. You will find that you are stretched and tested but you’ll find the contribution you’ll make hugely rewarding.