Leadership Lessons and Musings

By Katrina Park

Are leaders made or born?  There is much debate on this but one could argue that the true leader instead concentrates on developing the leadership qualities necessary for success. When looking at leadership it’s worth noting the qualities that people look for in a leader. Because the reality is that if you can increase your skill in displaying these qualities, then you will make it easier for people to want to follow you. The less time you have to spend on getting others to follow you, the more time you have to spend refining exactly where you want to go and how to get there.

What’s difficult about leadership is that nobody ever sits you down and “teaches” you what being a real leader is all about. It’s something you simply must learn yourself, on the job in most cases.

I was fortunate enough to be given my first opportunity to step up into a leadership role at age 21.  An opportunity I am very grateful for.  I was only six (6) months into my first recruitment role, but luckily for me my manager at the time saw something in me and gave me the chance to be involved in the recruitment of our next trainee recruitment consultant and then the training and mentoring of this individual.

At the time I remember thinking that I was a lot younger than the person I was leading, and in fact as the years went by I went on to lead many people that were a lot older than I (20 years on and approaching my 40th year this scenario doesn’t happen as often now….. Showing my age now!)

From here, my leadership responsibilities gradually grew and before not too long was I given the official title of Team Leader, and of course I progressed up the ‘leadership ladder’ from there.  For the past 14 years I’ve been running my own business which has definitely given me the opportunity to develop my leadership skills (and by no means am I saying I have mastered it because that would be a lie!).

As a manager and leader, I was largely self-taught.  Since my early days of leadership I have of course attended many leadership seminars and courses.  And I’ve had many great mentors and coaches whom have been instrumental in shaping me as a leader.

Firstly, let me say this – leadership is tough!  It’s not for everyone, if you want an easy job, leadership isn’t it!  We’re dealing with people – and all of their emotions, insecurities, hopes, dreams, expectations, etc.

But let me also say this, it’s so rewarding to see people that have been under your leadership grow and develop both personally and professionally.   And boy has leading people taught me a lot about myself and helped me grow personally and professionally.

Here’s what I’ve learnt along the way about leadership (from my own experience and much-admired mentors):

  • Put your people first – show empathy, put yourself in their shoes. I really feel that great leaders don’t see themselves as great, as leadership is a constant work in progress and area for improvement.  Be human.
  • Be authentic,passionate, even emotional, about what you believe in. Share your vision and live your values. The personal is more inspiring than the process.
  • Culture in any organization boils down to just one thing – the behaviour of the leaders. Culture is how we treat each other, it’s how be behave and it’s what we do. Leadership is not a position, it’s who we are.
  • Lead by example – simple, but so important, enough said.
  • Get out and about – get in the trenches with your team – you’ll see what people actually do, rather than what people tell you they do. Work hard – why should your team if you don’t.
  • Provide a clear and motivating sense of purpose. Share the vision – communicate it effectively and often.  Help your team develop a broad understanding of the team’s purpose, and faith in how their role contributes to the whole.
  • Talk less, listen more.
  • Don’t try and do everything. Focus on a few things that really matter and where you can make a difference. There may be a hundred different distractions and demands on your time and a hundred ways you could respond, but it’s the dozen carefully chosen actions that deliver the results.
  • Make decisions – be decisive, don’t procrastinate, it may not always be the right decision, but you need to make a decision, no decision is not a decision…
  • As Theodore Roosevelt once said, “In any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing, the next best thing is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is nothing.”
  • Praise – praise your team often – let them know how they’re doing and be vocal about it when they’re doing well.
  • Hire well, fire quickly – this should arguably be the first item on the list. A leader’s most important role is sometimes about assembling a team of great people–and, just as important, avoiding letting toxic people join and getting toxic people off the team quickly if they’ve managed to make it in.
  • Have fun and a sense of humour – work doesn’t have to be serious all of the time. People work better when they’re happy.
  • Celebrate the wins – large and small.
  • Strive for excellence and don’t apologise for having high standards – don’t settle for mediocrity. Because really, who wants to work for someone who strives simply to be mediocre and average?
  • Develop more leaders – I feel all leaders have a responsibility to share and impart their knowledge and develop others. Be thrilled, not threatened, when members of your team go on to even bigger and better things.
  • Don’t be the smartest person in the room.Being a leader does not mean knowing more than anyone else. Recognise, encourage and promote others as experts.
  • Don’t take things too personally. This one is hard but important. Don’t be too hard on yourself when things don’t go to plan.

Last but not least, keep trying. Don’t beat yourself up when you don’t live up to your own expectations. Reflect and learn from those times when you stumble and fall over and get back up again.  And remember that leadership is a privilege, not a right.