Growing Into Leadership

People aren’t born into leadership positions. We usually start in the trenches, as the doers. We earn the right to lead the projects and the vision by doing the work itself, and doing it well. Because the hardest part of learning to lead well is letting go of the execution, the very thing that earned us our spot at the head of the team, and entrusting others with the building and construction.

The old saying of “if you want something done right, do it yourself” just doesn’t play at scale. That’s not how great ideas come to fruition, and it’s not how great businesses are built.

As I’ve learned to lead rather than do (and that’s a constant process), a few key concepts have helped me a great deal to stay on track, and perhaps they’ll help you too, or someone you know emerging into a leadership role.

 Build consensus around shared goals and direction.
 Present the what – the shared vision or goals – but not necessarily the how.
 Communicate expectations clearly and often.
 Avoid dictating the plans yourself, but rather help refine the roadmaps that others have built and presented.

 Champion and enable others’ ideas instead of always handing others ideas to execute.
 Allow your teams sometimes to fail in their search for the approach that works, and to help them find the lessons in those failures.
 Protect nascent ideas and allow them time to incubate without immediate interference from bureaucracy and naysayers.
 Encourage respectful discourse and sharing of opinions and viewpoints, including opposing ones.
 Recognize success openly, sincerely, and often.

 Provide context, history, and organizational intelligence to empower your teams with information upon which to build their plans.
 Look past today’s projects to envision what tomorrow might look like and how you can guide toward it.
 Present alternative views or looks at stubborn problems.
 Consistently evaluate team dynamics and capabilities, and make the tough people decisions to ensure you’ve got the right people in the right roles.

 Provide direct lines of communication with each team member, and be available.
 Keep confidences, period.
 Hire capable, smart people, and be willing to get out of their way.
 Be responsible and accountable for your decisions and their results, and avoid scapegoating and blame.
 Share the credit, and the spotlight.

Learning to be a leader can be challenging when you’ve built a career on doing the work. Old habits die hard. It’s sometimes hard to believe that anyone can do what you do and do it as well, or better. But if you’ve got designs on building something bigger than you, you’re going to need to build and empower a team around you. It’s just not possible to do it alone.
So what would you add to my list? How would you help new and emerging leaders get comfortable with their roles?

Amber Naslund

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